The Other Palace
Reviewed – 6th November 2019
“what the play lacks in catchy tunes, the performers near-on make up for in jazz-handed, high-kicking delivery”
The 1930s really marked the beginning of the popular musical, with big names like Irving Berlin and Cole Porter writing for the big screen. Similarly, jazz and blues had just about found its way into every kind of popular music, counting Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald amongst its big names. Sure, the beginning of the decade was blighted by the Great Depression, and the end of the decade saw the beginning of the Second World War. But great music persisted, trying to wrench those tired spirits out of their misery, and give them a moment’s reprieve. So if you’re going to set a musical in the ‘30s, you might have an awful lot to live up to (I’m thinking Anything Goes, Top Hat, Guys and Dolls) but you’ve also got so much to draw from.
At first, Reputation, as directed by Warren Wills, appears to have gone for a small blues set-up, with a pianist and a double-bassist stage left, playing the audience in with smoky blues and jazz riffs. But as soon as the lights dim, these two gentlemen proceed to accompany a bland, derivative, twenty-first century Broadway-style repertoire, with very little to suggest the varied and splendid music of the period. There’s one big number that livens it up a little, ‘Protect your Reputation’, a cynical guide to success sung by the play’s villain, Freddy Larceny (Jeremy Secomb), but that’s it really.
The plot itself might have legs: Michelle (Maddy Banks), a young American girl studying at a finishing school in Paris, has secretly written a novel. She spots an ad in Variety looking for new stories to be turned in to movies and decides to take a chance and send in her book, along with the $20 admission fee. The ad being a scam, she is promptly rejected. But two years later, it transpires her story has been stolen and made in to a major Hollywood blockbuster, so she goes in search of justice.
It could be a nice David and Goliath, victory-for-justice kind of story. But instead we’re dragging our heels, desperate to get to the completely predictable ending, which might be forgivable if we didn’t have to sit through track after track of forgettable numbers.
The bulk of the cast generally remains on stage throughout, which is completely reasonable considering the layout of the room. What’s odd and quite distracting, though, is the choice to have those not involved with a scene face the wall, their noses near enough pressed up against it. It looks like they’ve done something naughty and are on a time-out.
The saving grace is casting director Anne Vosser’s eye for talent. On the whole, the cast’s abilities far exceed the quality of the show. Harmonies are tight, and what the play lacks in catchy tunes, the performers near-on make up for in jazz-handed, high-kicking delivery. Ed Wade, playing the bashful love interest, deserves special mention for his surprisingly syrupy falsetto, though he sports a completely anachronistic slicked-back ponytail, presumably because he didn’t want to chop his hair off for what has turned out to be not much.
It’s less what Reputation is that disappoints, than what it could have been. With a multi-talented cast, a perfectly fine plot, some nifty choreography (Tamsyn Salter) and a decade of musical inspiration to choose from, somehow the result is distinctly mediocre and forgettable. On the plus side, it’s unlikely to make a big enough splash to ruin anyone’s reputation.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Donato
The Other Palace until 14th November
Previously reviewed at this venue: