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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 

 

Book by Joseph Stein

 

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz

 

Based on the film “La Femme du Boulanger” by Marcel Pagnol and Jean Giono

 

Director - Michael Strassen

 

Producer – Sasha Regan

 

Musical Director – Chris Mundy

 

Lighting Designer – Steve Miller

 

Union Theatre

 

21 September – 15 October 2011

 

 

Set in an unexciting town in rural 1930s France, The Baker's Wife opens in a café owned by the insufferably grouchy Claude (Ian Mowat) and his contrastingly warm and mirthful wife Denise (Ricky Butt). The audience encounters a whole range of characters in this first scene, all of whom are frustrated by the constraints of village life to the extent that their daily bread, the most basic of provisions, is worthy material for a song and dance. Their collective despair at the death of the local baker is the only thing that draws them together with provincial rivalries and domestic feuds forcing wedges between them. All this is set against an apparently Munch-inspired mural backdrop that seems a strained attempt to imply the inner turmoil of the characters. 

The action centres around the arrival of a replacement baker Aimable (Michael Matus) and his younger spouse Geneviève (Lisa Stokke) who becomes, rather swiftly and somewhat inexplicably, the object of local lothario Dominique's (Matthew Goodgame) obsessions. On the fringes of this love triangle the villagers continue to hanker after their bread and are forced to unite as a community in their quest to get the baker's ovens back on with some comic results.

 The Baker's Wife is a fun-filled spectacle, though the action is a little stagnant in some of the more serious scenes, such as the reunion between Aimable and Geneviève. The most dynamic scenes are those involving the ensemble at the café, usually spurned on by the sparkling performance by Ricky Butt as Denise whose vocals are consistently strong throughout. At the café, the cast shine as a collective in such energetic scenes as the excellently synchronised and comically suggestive ‘Bread’ in which varnished baguettes are the key props and ‘Feminine Companionship’ where a sense of real community life is palpable in a choral effort to bring Aimable some cheer. In all the ensemble scenes Doumergue (Liam Ross-Mills) cuts a cheeky figure, worthy of special mention for his consistent pursuit of fun.

 Lighting is impressive in this production, effectively used to illustrate times of day and reflect moods. Characters lift imaginary blinds to let in light and a large white circle painted on the wall of the set represents sun and moon, illuminated at intervals. The music is provided by musical director Chris Mundy on piano and cellist Colin Clark, and though there are no especially memorable melodies, the musical arrangement and execution is smooth and well honed. Occasional flourishes from Phillippe (Mark Lawson) on guitar add some spontaneity.  

 The costumes, designed by Kingsley Hall, indicate the personalities of the wearers in a comically overt fashion. Therese (Danielle Fenemore) is decked in dowdy, sensible attire; covered from head to toe. The Marquis (Mark Turnbull) is suitably attired in the uniform of a man of standing who is fond of the finer things in life. His coven of “nieces” wears delicate, revealing outfits, indicative of their liberal attitudes and fancy-free approach to life with the Marquis.

 In essence the show is a well illustrated reminder of an age-old assertion; the grass is not always greener on the other side. This message is most explicitly developed in Geneviève’s heartfelt rendition of ‘Where is the Warmth?’

 

 
Box Office: 020 7261 9876
http://www.uniontheatre.biz/
204 Union Street, Southwark, London SE1 0LX
Tickets £15
 
 

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