The Other Palace
Reviewed – 5th September 2019
“The strong performances cannot mask the fact that Falsettos feels disparate, and as though it’s lacking a voice”
Falsettos opens with Four Jews in a Room Bitching. Or that’s the name of the opening number, anyway. It’d be difficult to tell otherwise, since it’s not especially clear where they are, or why they’re there. And they don’t even appear to be doing much bitching. Although this musical’s no stranger to it, as anyone who’s been on Twitter in the past few weeks will know that it’s been mired in controversy for its lack of Jewish representation in a story that allegedly pivots around Judaism. That certainly didn’t seem to be the focal point of this production, however, but then it’s also difficult to say what was.
Originally conceived as a trilogy of one-act musicals by William Finn and James Lapine, Falsettos is a conglomeration of In Trousers, March of the Falsettos, and Falsettoland. It centres on Marvin (Daniel Boys), a man trying to maintain his relationship with his ex-wife Trina (Laura Pitt-Pulford) and son Jason (Albert Atack in this performance) after having come out as gay and left them for his boyfriend Whizzer (Oliver Savile). Things take a further complication when Marvin’s shrink Mendel (Joel Montague) becomes romantically involved with Trina, as the show reflects on the wealth of different loves one can experience, and the non-conventional forms it can blossom in.
While its depiction of homosexuality and non-traditional families may have been controversial in the ’80s when March of the Falsettos debuted, the messy story leaves it feeling lacking in substance in today’s (slightly) more accepting climate. It’s hugely noticeable that Falsettos is three musicals stitched together, as characters leap from moment to moment in their arcs without any time being allowed to let these changes develop organically, or for them to settle effectively. The love between Mendel and Trina, for example, feels unearned when most of the buildup is Mendel lecherously fantasising about her during his meetings with Marvin. Finn’s music, too, robs a number of scenes of their emotional heft as nigh-on every song takes on a quirky, light-hearted tone – the impact of darker elements such as domestic violence and terminal illness is completely undermined when underscored by major chords.
However, in a number of moments, the levity of the music, as well as its enjoyably unpredictable use of tempo and key changes, is utilised excellently in numbers such as The Baseball Game, and Pitt-Pulford delivers the stand-out performance in I’m Breaking Down. Boys has superb comic timing, and the mesh of the company’s voices is truly beautiful, although two of them – lesbian couple Cordelia (Natasha J Barnes) and Charlotte (Gemma Knight-Jones) – don’t appear at all until the second act – another sign of the unpolished unification of separate pieces.
The strong performances cannot mask the fact that Falsettos feels disparate, and as though it’s lacking a voice. The chessboard set from PJ McEvoy is superfluous, trying to force a metaphor that simply isn’t in the text, and Tara Overfield-Wilkinson’s direction favours chasing laughs over emotional honesty. Whether these issues stem from the absence of Jewish voices in the rehearsal room, or are just an overall problem with the production will no doubt be the subject of further Twitter debates – either way, Falsettos is missing the specificity that lets it truly land.
Reviewed by Ethan Doyle
Photography by The Standout Company
The Other Palace until 23rd November
Previously reviewed at this venue: