Theatre: Gone With the Wind

One of the fun things about going to the theatre and blogging about it is that you can pick up the buzz and excitement about new productions as they hit town. Sadly this was not the case with Gone With the Wind. When asking around about it over the last month, the only responses I got back about it were forced smiles and phrases like... "Well... It's innnnteresting". Well now after seeing a preview of it on Tuesday night I can confirm what they are saying. It is innnteresting... And for those that don't know theatre-speak... That means it is rubbish.

First of all starting with the leads. It was a curious choice to put Darius Danesh and Jill Paice in the lead roles of Rhett and Scarlett. Despite the efforts of Darius to make his voice boom and disguise with sideburns the fact he is in his twenties, he still looks like he is playing dress-up and wearing his dad's clothes. Paice doesn't fare much better either and together to pair give the show the kind of earnestly bland feeling you get from a high school musical... Perhaps the stress of carrying such a heavy show will prematurely age them so they might begin to resemble the age of their characters but even then they I suspect they still wouldn't have the gravitas to pull it off...

As a musical, I kept thinking how the opening song from Parade in a few bars conveyed more about Georgia than anything I heard in the three hours and forty-five minutes of this production. It isn't just that the songs are bland and forgettable, but the majority of them simply grind the show to a halt rather than advancing the plot and keeping things moving. The numbers (and the performances) that had any life in them were sung by the black cast. The stark contrast between the songs and performances made me wonder whether they adapted the wrong book and that they really should have adapted the parody The Wind Done Gone and be the south's answer to Wicked...

But ultimately what kills this show is the endless narration. And it is so embedded in this production that it strips the show of any sense of drama. Obviously no effort was made to focus the show so loads of narration helps get through huge chunks of the plot. But there was also actually very little dialogue and everything from the bleeding obvious ("she turns her head") to whatever fiddle-dee-little-dee devilish whim enters Scarlett's mind also was given the narrative treatment. This show must be wonderful if you are blind, although you still have to listen to the music.

I suspect part of the problem is that the book, lyrics and music were all written by the same person. Generally (unless you are a genius) this is a pretty brave thing to do. And if in the case of Margaret Martin - where you have no previous theatre credits to your name - and half of your bio is devoted to how you are a specialist in child and maternal health, it is particularly bizarre. It gets even more bizarre in the production notes where the claim for experience is based on the fact that "As a single mother, she identified closely with the challenges faced by Gone With the Wind’s young protagonist". A pity she didn't identify with the challenges faced by adapting a well-loved film and particularly dense novel into a watchable musical.

The production itself was intriguing too. There was a revolving mansion that when it revolved didn't seem to be any different. A big flag descended at various points to signify we were in Atlanta. And actually the entire theatre had flags and drapes and other paraphernalia around just to remind you that you were in the south. Given it had such an Englishmen's view of America this was quite necessary to be reminded about exactly where this story was set... Then there were these pesky hoop dresses that all became a bit of a burden and started taking on a life of their own. Well I guess hoops must have been difficult. When they disappeared at a point in the first half I assumed they were melted down as part of the war effort as selling pillowcases to fund the war effort (which also featured in a prominent scene) can only get you so far. The scene where Scarlett walks through the dead of Atlanta by running around in circles and having the dead roll over was particularly amusing unintentionally. I began to wondered if one of the dead was meant to be Margaret Mitchell... Turning in her grave.

I caught the show with the West End Whingers (and seven others). When it happened and what happened was all dutifully recorded by the Whingers in the first act. Although for the record I will be disputing with them that I arrived at 7.29... It surely couldn't have been any later than 7.28... Besides I knew I needed all the spare time to consume enough coffee to stay awake for this thing so I did make an extra stop at Nero. Still I was grateful to the Whingers that they had got us some great seats that were also set back from where all the actors kept running around so I didn't have to worry about tempting to trip them up with my feet and other baggage.

But by the second act, the Whingers and six of their guests decided a bar would be more pleasurable than a moment longer of this show. But Katy and myself were determined to stick with it. Besides, I had said to Andrew I would "take one for the team" and keep him up to speed on what happens in the second half... Since I don't carry a notebook with me to record every detail of what I am seeing, I decided to twitter my reactions to the second act instead. I could tell Andrew was impressed with this as it is so Web 2.0 (even though I have no idea what that really means). Anyway, while using a mobile phone in a dark theatre would normally be a no-no given the distraction for others around, given that there were eight empty seats I figured there was enough space to not make too much of a disturbance. If you missed the feeds on the right hand side of the blog at the time, they were:

9:21 PM: Phew i just managed to get gin so i can endure the second half!
9:37 PM: Oh the narration! Make it stop!
9:44 PM: Now the actors are crowing...
10:15 PM: Drunk scarlett sings... Oh dear...
10:27 PM: Cut the white characters... Leave the black ones... They can sing (this was at the point of one of the showstopper black songs)
10:35 PM: Rape song now... Oh goody
10:49 PM: Just sung gone within a month... How prophetic...
11:02 PM: Another death song
11:16 PM: The narration... It has stopped... It has finally stopped...


Not as detailed as the Whingers, but you try texting in the dark while concealing your bright phone under your right leg. But at least by 11:16pm, more than three and three quarter hours after it started it was all over. I felt like I had survived. I couldn't applaud. I was too weak. Not counting Elaine Paige at Barbara Cook's 80th, it was the worst show I had seen since Cabaret. Still somebody on one of the sides leapt to their feet. Others cheered and carried on too. Cabaret is still playing in the West End, so maybe it shows what the hell do I know... I didn't think about that too much... I just needed to get some sleep...

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