By the end it delights, endures even and if the slight, light slow-burn surrealism of the opening scenes have one searching for a way in momentarily, the effort is repaid ad finem; hec the paintings of Max Ernst are an acquired taste but no visit to the Tate is complete without lingering a while before The Elephant Celebes. Same goes for theatre reviews which begin at the end and baffle at the start.
If they live life “on an angle” sexually at La Cage Aux Folles, in this Jerry Herman piece – also sourced from a French original, The Madwoman of Chaillot – they live life on an angle mentally. As with Lear, it’s with the insane where honesty and reason reside. Oh and we are mercifully spared any bad mad acting, there’s a mute too who ‘speaks’ with insight and avoids that trap for mutes of being irritating; Ayman Safiah is in fact charming.
The score is stupendous from the get-go though. I’d never heard a note of it and could hum you great swathes and that’s before I downloaded the original Broadway cast recording this morning; Angela Lansbury stars, bonus! Betty Buckley stars here (double bonus) as a warm and wonderful, cookie Countess Aurelia. There’s a moment in Act 2 when the Julian of Stuart Matthew Price (top of his game, again) descends the stars holding a feather boa before role-playing Emile, the lost love of the Countess. I turned to the woman next to me and said, “Wow, what a scene!” I wonder who she was? We’re all going mad. She did agree, though.
You’re not getting anymore plot from me, so don’t ask, but halfway through Act 1 this piece turns a corner and motors on the best Michelins to the finish line. This exact moment coincides with the arrival of Countess cohorts Constance (Annabel Leventon) who hears voices and Gabrielle (show-stealing Rebecca Lock) a virgin with an imaginary, Freudian dog called Dickie. This triumvirate rule supreme and master the mad banter bang on. Hilarious.
What are we calling the Charing Cross Theatre these days? Fringe? Off-West End? There’s nothing off or fringe about the production values here and how increasingly rare and pleasantly surprising at this scale to see a design concept so stunningly realized the set is by Matt Kinley, costumes, Ann Hould-Ward. It’s a thing of beauty especially under the lantern light of Olivier award winning lighting designer extraordinaire, Mike Robertson who paints with light with all the wit and skill of Claude Monet.
The orchestrations by the great Sarah Travis are unsurprisingly virtuosic and together with what Ian Townsend produces from the pit, well, this is real class.
All hail Director/Choreographer Gillian Lynne for this shining bijou labour of love. If you love musicals you’ll love Dear World, go see it. If you love Jerry Herman you’ll lap it up, Bon Appétit.
Runs until 30th March 2013