This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com
Based on the novel The Sweet Dove Died by Barbara Pym, first published in 1978, this new 90-minute chamber musical is set among people who “go to auctions and expensive lunches”, beautiful people for whom appearance is everything and ageing is a matter for self denial.
Leonora (Francesca Ellis) is a lost soul, leaving her best years behind her and, as it is the 1960s, unable to turn to Botox for help. She becomes besotted with young James (Ryan Frank) whose Uncle Humphrey (Jon Osbaldeston) is besotted with her. Unfortunately, James has a girlfriend nearer his own age, Phoebe (Jennifer Harraghy who sings beautifully) and, even more unfortunately, he also has an eye for his own gender. Such material could provide the foundations for a very camp musical, but one of this production’s problems is that it is nowhere near camp enough.
Ellis does well, given not too much to work with, and she grabs at her big moment singing the title song at the very end. However, Frank’s James looks as if he is convalescing from a recent charisma by-pass and the fact that he becomes such a magnet for other characters is the show’s big mystery. Crossing the Atlantic, James shares a cabin with Ned, a very butch American Professor of “British” Literature who seduces him with little effort. Spencer O’Brien gives Ned real swagger and attacks his two numbers with the sort of gusto that we expect to see in a musical.
Otherwise, Joe Giuffre’s production is stuttering and flat-footed, cast adrift on a bare stage that is much too big for it. Giuffre/s lyrics are often bland and predictable, while his book needs more wit. Juan Iglesias’ score shows a fondness for strong counter melodies, but there is little to evoke a period feel. The songs, performed with the accompaniment of a five-piece band led by Musical Director Joseph Finlay, sound as if they are less than half way towards where they need to be to lift the show.
The mirror never lies and neither should the reviewer, This production always feels like a workshop for a musical that is not yet ready to be seen by the paying public. Viewed as “in progress”, there are glimmers of hope that cracks in the show can be repaired, but it is going ro take a great deal more time and effort.
Performance date: 15 November 2016