Musicals

 

 

A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

Ruby in the Dust present Guy de Maupassant’s

 

Bel Ami

 

 

Written and directed by Linnie Reedman

 

Composed by Joe Evans

 

White Bear Theatre

 

 12 – 31 July 2011

 

Bel Ami is a musical play interpretation of Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 novel concerning the corruption and hedonism of fin de siecle Paris. Its seamless aesthetics belie a shaky script, while its progressive composition distracts from a flaky dramatic intention.

Frozen like a waxwork diorama of utter control and balance, the cast succeed in making the audience feel as intrusive as the arriving protagonist in the opening scene. As Georges du Roy skulks in, his shabbiness is chorally attacked by high-society and waiter alike, a dramatic move which illuminates the impenetrability of this world, and cleverly sets the bar for the protagonist to leap.The intimate tete-a-tetes that loosely bind the cabaret-led action are the most poignant moments, whereas the bawdy, filler songs ironically mimic the vacuous titillation which Georges is so abhorred to write about in the tabloid-like La Vie Francaise. It is these frivolous burlesque routines which crassly dominate the opening half and deny enriching character development. It is only after the interval when Gary Tushaw excels as Georges that we feel engaged enough to enjoy the drama.

Once Tushaw warms into his role he is inspiring to watch; his shifts between victim and master reveal his well-researched knowledge of the character. Matthew Crowfoot’s cameo as the silent but pompous Laroche is remarkably impressive, and Edward Cartwright’s early scenes as the sneering but propitious Charles are well-crafted and potent - his departure is the show’s loss.

The most surprising and interesting element of the piece is the way Tushaw’s Bel Ami avoids what seems to be an inevitable fall. The further the play pushes towards the denouement, the more we realise that he’s not coming back down to earth. This refreshing revelation bolsters the drama’s originality and gives it an irksome magnetism. Instead of allowing it to descend into tedium, George’s continued success at philandering reveals the latent shallowness of this beautiful society, and his unhindered success at polygamy courageously avoids any predictable ‘moral revelation’. But this development is more Maupassant’s doing than the theatre company’s.

As a piece of theatre, the greatest joys come from Evans’ subtle and creative compositions, especially in the songs he hasn’t been pushed into making Broadway. ‘Poisoning the Moonlight’ is a rare moment of dramatic lucidity and audience immersion, and the quasi-reprise in the second half creates a tingling aftershock. One highlight is the typewriter-beat interludes which, when coupled with Evans’ stichomythic piano, add more articulation than much of the dialogue.

The light and design can’t be faulted on anything but lack of originality, acting as a much - needed ballast for the faltering script. Oddly, the two-inch wide full-length mirror was abrasively attractive, but perhaps a lean towards its niche design features might have brought a new layer of abstractness to this rather safe musical play.

There seems to be un-mined humour buried away in the piece, and a few tweaks in the script and direction might see this potential bloom into empathetic laughter. The core of the piece is attractive but obscured; and it feels as if the audience has to strain to enjoy its riches, rather than be offered them digestibly. Bel Ami has elements of style, a challenging score and strokes of fine acting, but tighter dialogue and a more fastidious direction may make the drama shimmer.

 

 
Box Office: 020 7735 8664
 http://www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk
White Bear Theatre
138 Kennington Park Rd
London SE11 4DJ
Tuesday - Saturday at 7.30pm, Sunday at 5.30pm
Tickets: £13/10


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