Beneath the rumbling trains and in relocated green cinema seats, the Union theatre presented a blinding West-End performance of a classic Rodgers and Hart show.
The audience, however, were trapped inside a small black box theatre. The wonderful, well projected voices resounded loudly against the walls and painfully rang in my ears. The acting performance that would have been entertaining to even the most confused American tourists sitting at the back of the gods of the Coliseum felt false and uncomfortable when sitting only a couple of feet away from their upturned chins. The brilliantly choreographed dance numbers felt as lost as a Busby Berkeley in a tin can, and practically dangerous to the front row. Almost every aspect of this production ignored it’s surroundings and lacked self awareness.
The product seemed more like a showcase for the director, choreographer and performer than a piece of theatre created with the audience in mind, for example, singing at the top of your voice might show off your fantastic lung capacity but just gives the audience a headache in a space like this.
The beauty of black box theatres is the intimacy. The audience have the opportunity to connect with the characters on a very human level. Obviously, the musical was not created with this intimacy in mind, but the potential for brilliance lied in recreating the piece for this space, which 95% of the production failed to do.
There were moments of self-awareness. Two to be exact. During the overture, all the actors and actresses came on in 1930s-50s clothing as the cast getting ready to perform then the costume rail came on stage and the entire cast stripped down into their underwear to change into togas. The second moment of awareness when a very lovely trio between the 3 female leads (the best part of show) was interrupted by three dancers coming on, pushing the trio to the back left-hand corner of the stage circled round a war-time vintage microphone prop. Really, the singers should have at least been on the raise bit at the back.
Aside from the asinine nature of these ill-thought-out touches, my main criticism is that they weren’t followed through to create anything actually brilliant. Don’t just suggest a show within a show, be bold enough to present this properly.
I truly hope I get to see the director, choreographer and all the performers on a big, traditional stage soon because modern, black box theatres doesn’t seem to be their forte.