Review: The Glorious Ones, The Landor ****

With one hand on its crotch and one on its heart, The Glorious Ones stumbles joyfully and raucously into The Landor Theatre. This tale of an itinerant Commedia dell’Arte troupe in 17th Century Italy tickles the ribs,  delights the head, and captures the heart.

The stock characters of commedia are all here, Columbina the servetta, Pantalone, Dottore, the innamorati, but the lines between the characters they portray and who they really are, have become less defined through their travels, and it is their relationships both on and off the stage that provide the dramatic and emotional narrative of the musical.

Howard Hudson’s gorgeous, understated lighting flickers imaginatively throughout

Robert McWhir’s tight and detailed direction allows the larger-than-life characters to fill the small Landor stage, without it ever once seeming cluttered, while shining a forensic spotlight on each character in turn.  Howard Hudson’s gorgeous, understated lighting flickers imaginatively throughout, washing the stage in a sepia glow like the crumbling playbills that advertise The Glorious Ones’ performances. Martin Thomas’ set of traveling cases and makeshift stages accentuates the vagabond aspect, while Hannah Gibbs’ costumes capture the spirit and vim of the players.

Musically, Niall Bailey’s orchestrations pare down the score, supporting rather than overpowering the cast and Joanna Cichonska as Musical Director keeps the music dancing along.  It is possible that you may not leave the theatre humming Stephen Flaherty’s melodies, but Lynn Ahrens’ lyrics, at times witty, at times touching, will doubtless haunt you.  It is only in combination that you realise the true power of their partnership, most recently celebrated in London here at The Landor, in the gorgeous Ragtime.

Although Mike Christie lacks the towering charisma and necessary stage presence to carry off the role of Flaminio Scala, the leader of the troupe, the rest of the ensemble more than make up for this. Kate Brennan, as Columbina, threatens to steal the show with a heartbreaking ballad, My Body Wasn’t Why, while as Armanda, Jodie Beth Meyer’s Armanda’s Sack offers a touching tribute to their leader.   As the innamorati Francesco and Isabella, Christopher Berry and Anouska Eaton both shine. All the characters, even the woefully underused Peter Straker as Pantalone and David Muscat as Dottore manage to transcend their stock roles and imbue their characters with life and a painful fragility that reflects human nature.

This show is at its best as a riotous ensemble, filling the stage with wit, joy and filth; the journey of The Glorious Ones is a journey through life and art.  It is that most inventive of productions – a truly original musical – catch it now.

**** 4 stars
Runs until 7th April
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