“consistently entertaining and extremely well delivered: a successful fusion of music and narrative that makes for a compassionate study of the miracle of love”
Spanning half a century and featuring just two actors, this is a charming adaptation of a 1966 Broadway musical that was based on Jan de Hartog’s 1951 play, The Fourposter. Directed and produced by Joseph Hodges, this new version revives the timeless tale of a marriage in all its stages.
We join Michael and Agnes in their bedroom on their wedding night, young and very much in love but also inexperienced and nervous at the prospect of spending their lives together. Fast-forwarding through the years to reveal the progression of their relationship, the show alternates between dramatic vignettes and vibrant, clever songs.
Gemma Maclean and Ben Morris carry the entire performance, animated and energetic enough to fill the stage by themselves. They are accompanied only by musical director Henry Brennan, who offers dextrous live keyboard interpretations of the songs by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones.
The unfussy-but-detailed set design by Emily Bestow wisely puts the bed at its centre, flanked by a dressing table on the left and a writing desk (Michael is a novelist) and chaise longue on the right.
There’s subtle humour and plenty of warmth, but – keeping sentimentality at bay – there are also barbed observations and arguments. One of the funniest moments, built around the song ‘Nobody’s Perfect’, shows the bickering couple reading from pre-prepared lists of each other’s faults. We learn that she wears cold cream in bed, while he makes a strange sucking noise in his sleep. There’s also an amusing running joke about a ‘God is love’ pillow that Agnes is fond of and which Michael cannot stand…
The scenes flow sequentially but the plot strands aren’t always resolved. Instead, each scene presents a new snapshot of their lives. This was a little frustrating in the case of the bombshell that ends the first half. You really want to find out how they respond to this crisis, and then… time marches on and it’s as if that scene never happened. Yet despite this slightly disjointed aspect, the narrative gives Michael and Agnes surprising emotional depth. Indeed, the ups and downs of their journey through marriage are frequently poignant and touching. We join them as they encounter the joys and fears of parenthood. We witness the rise of Michael’s writing career and see how his success affects them both differently. And we observe their mixed feelings at their daughter’s wedding as the whole cycle begins again.
If there’s a flaw it’s that the show supposedly spans the 50 years from 1890 to 1940 – a period encompassing World War I and the start of World War II – but you get little or no sense of wider events unfolding beyond the walls of their bedroom. Instead, the focus is on how time passes for the couple, which makes perfect sense given the theme, but it does seem like a missed opportunity to infuse their situation with additional gravity.
That minor point aside, it’s consistently entertaining and extremely well delivered: a successful fusion of music and narrative that makes for a compassionate study of the miracle of love.
“a spectacularly over-the-top production and a monumentally good time”
Whilst originally a Broadway show (based on the novel by Anita Loos) starring Carol Channing, it’s Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell’s killer pairing in the iconic 1953 film adaptation that’s kept this story live and kicking in the musical canon. Even if you haven’t seen it, you’re sure to be familiar with the glorious fuchsia-scarlet clash in Miss Monroe’s absurdly decadent number, ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’. Much like most of Marilyn’s back-catalogue, the play’s plot isn’t quite besides the point, but it’s third to the big showstopper numbers, and whoever has the daunting task of filling her inimitable shoes.
Lorelai (Abigayle Honeywill), a small town girl with a penchant for diamonds, has her eye set on a sugar daddy to provide her a life-time supply of the sparkling little gems. When her deep-pocketed fiancé (Aaron Bannister-Davies) catches wind of her sordid past, she feels certain that he’ll break off their engagement, so she immediately goes in search of a wealthy replacement, with the help of her friend and ‘chaperone’, Dorothy (Eleanor Lakin).
Honeywill is a perfect Marilyn type: white blonde, strikingly beautiful and a small hip wag away from charming most anyone out of their life savings. Presumably, though, she doesn’t want to be accused of merely playing Marylin rather than the character herself, so in an act of defiance she’s taken on this Lina Lamont-type nasal squeal. Whilst it proves comic at times, it’s not sustainable, particularly when singing. Honeywill has a beautiful singing voice and she can’t resist giving it her all, but she ends up sounding schizophrenic, swapping between a bold, sometimes husky tone to an insufferable screech, and back again.
The principals are all perfectly cast. Lakin’s Dorothy is brilliantly mocking and tongue-in-cheek, and Freddie King, playing Henry Spofford, finds an endearing balance between being charmingly artless and just plain charming. The chorus is brimming with triple threats, and it seems they’ve been as carefully cast as the main characters.
With the amazing Sasha Regan once again directing, the production is quite spectacular. With such a small stage, and the accompanying piano (Henry Brennan) and drums taking up a good chunk of it, it seems dangerous to have so many high-kicking, split-leaping, almost gymnastic dance numbers with a cast of eighteen. But choreographer Zak Nemorin seems determined to present the high production value that this show deserves, regardless of whether the drummer gets disturbingly close to getting kicked in the face on several occasions.
Justin Williams has cleverly pared the set right back so at least there are no tables and chairs for the chorus to break their necks on. Instead, a scarlet red carpet runs dramatically down the back wall and all the way to the front, preparing us for the big number we all know and love. Unfortunately, ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ falls a little short when the time comes. The lighting (Hector Murray), though otherwise beautiful executed, on this occasion blacks out the red back-drop and simultaneously washes out Lorelei’s pink gown. The song itself is a little quiet and the only occasion during the entire production when I remember thinking the band could do with a couple of muted trumpets. This is the only disappointing number, and really only because the ‘53 version is so vivid.
What with the set not providing much atmosphere, the costumes (Penn O’Gara) certainly make up for it, with gorgeous silhouettes aplenty and fringe for days.
There’s an amazing amount of songs packed in (music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Leo Robin), and to ensure they’re all covered, the plot in the second half gets a little lost. But as I said, no-one’s here for a gripping twist, or an emotional think piece. We’re here for a spectacularly over-the-top production and a monumentally good time, and ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ delivers in spades.