Queen of the Mist
Jack Studio Theatre
Reviewed – 11th April 2019
“its rushed retelling of Taylor’s ambitious stunt does not make the splash that it perhaps intends”
On 24th October 1901, Annie Edson Taylor, a 63-year-old woman from Auburn, New York, became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive. Down on her luck, Edson had hoped that achieving such a feat would make her rich and famous, but soon discovers the fickle nature of showbusiness.
Dominic O’Hanlon’s adaption of Michael John LaChiusa’s musical Queen of the Mist follows Taylor’s (Trudi Camilleri) incredible story from rags to riches to, well, rags as she employs the smooth-talking drunkard Frank Russell (Will Arundell) to be her manager and shuns the concerns of her conservative sister Jane (Emily Juler). The cast is completed by four supporting actors who do well to play several different roles from shopkeepers to presidential assassin Leon Czolgosz.
Camilleri does well to lead the show and spends little time offstage. The boisterous and selfish character of Taylor makes her hard to sympathise with, but Camilleri is successful in getting the audience on her side in more tender moments. The chemistry between her and Arundell is also apparent, and their last scene together is incredibly touching.
The cast make excellent use of the small stage, effortlessly transitioning between scenes set at the Falls to those in domestic spaces. The use of chairs, boxes and raised platforms (Tara Usher) effectively transforms the stage, and a brief bout of shadow puppetry in the first half is an amusing way of adding variety to the musical’s visuals. The small band of keys, strings, bass and woodwind instruments led by musical director Jordan Li-Smith sit prominently on tiered platforms to the right of the actors, but they do not detract from the action. Coloured lighting is used well to reflect and communicate the mood on stage and is impressively well-timed with the music.
The musical accompaniment deserves special commendation and is particularly atmospheric when Taylor plunges over the Falls. The music is strong in less dramatic moments too, with light flute and heavy brass cleverly accompanying different people as they walk and talk on stage.
The entire cast has strong vocals and Camilleri impressively navigates several successive solos. The strongest songs are The Fall (Act Two finale) and There Is Greatness In Me, the latter of which is threaded throughout the show which makes for nice continuity. Many of the songs are however lacklustre and the desire to cram in as many as possible often prevents both plot and character development.
The plot at times seems rushed and key relationships like that between Taylor and Russell are not given proper attention and make it unclear to the audience what to expect from their next interaction. The first half has a wonderfully dramatic climax but speeding through Taylor’s story to make this the case means that the second half unfortunately lacks much plot at all.
Queen of the Mist shines an important spotlight on a forgotten tale of greatness, but its rushed retelling of Taylor’s ambitious stunt does not make the splash that it perhaps intends.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Photography by Stephen James Russell
Queen of the Mist
Jack Studio Theatre until 27th April
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: