Theatre Wake: Too Close to the Sun


Listen!

It didn't feel like closing night of Too Close To the Sun. It felt more like a wake. Too Close To the Sun opened two weeks ago and immediately posted closing notices. We arrived almost too late for curtain up as John, Feigned Mischief and I were still having dinner across the road from the Comedy Theatre. I was keeping an eye on the theatre to watch when people went in, only to realise (almost too late), that with so few people attending the show, it was hard to tell. As we entered there was a deathly silence, and while I don't recall if there even was an overture, it felt like there should have been an organ playing funereal music.

The musical is a four-hander about the last few days of the life of Ernest Hemingway. The synopsis goes something like this: Ernest plods about and tries to molest his secretary. His wife, played by Helen Dallimore, walks around the set in some rather fascinating stirrup pants and heels. Meanwhile some other guy tries to woo Helen Dallimore and the screen rights to Ernie's books while singing Ethel Merman-like numbers. All this apparently drives Ernest to blow his brains out. Any insight into one of the great writers of his time must have been superfluous.

When a show is this bad, it isn't t necessary to wait for the reviews. John and the West End Whingers provided enough analysis to explain why it was not going to work in any case. John for some masochistic reason wanted to see it again, but I was grateful that he was there as an expert witness as I could keep asking him important questions about the production such as:
  • "How long is it until Ernie blows his brains out?"
  • "Does that mean it is intermission?"
  • "How long is it now until Ernie blows his brains out?"
  • "Didn't Ethel Merman sing a song that sounded like that once?"
  • "How long is it until Ernie blows his brains out?"
  • "There surely must be only five more minutes before Ernie blows his brains out right?"
Since the previews, some of the more ludicrous elements of the show had been toned down. It was also thankfully a little shorter. The "I don't trust that pirate girl" number became "I don't trust that little girl". The reference to pirates in Iowa was too much for some preview audiences who reportedly erupted into howls of laughter. Part of my motivation in seeing the show was that I missed the composer's previous opus, Beyond the Iron Mask, back in 2005, so naturally I was a little disappointed by these improvements. Still, there were enough WTF moments in the show to keep shrugging and shaking my head. Mostly they had to do with the musical numbers which bordered on the atonal and not well executed. The exception being the jazz parts of the number "I've been Too Close to the Sun", which ends the first act with a whimper... It could have been Liza... Although pity the character singing was Hemingway. The production also marked the return of the pointless revolve to the West End as well as the house turned and turned and turned without adding much. You were still in Iowa...

During intermission our group noticed two ladies who managed to smuggle into the theatre some Korean takeaway from a restaurant nearby as well. A lovely aroma wafted through the theatre and became the topic of the Audioboo I recorded and posted above. Talking to the ladies afterwards they suggested the food was the highlight of their evening as they bought tickets to this show on the premise that it was a play and they couldn't understand what the point of all the music was. Then they added that they couldn't understand the dialogue either. We probably should have asked Roberto Trippini who wrote the libretto to explain it to them as he was sitting a few seats away.

After the show we waited by the stage door to congratulate the cast for being professional and to wish them well. We also showered them with party poppers as a tribute to being in a show where the highlight of it was when the lead character blows his brains out. Somebody clapped as Trippini walked out as well but he said (what seemed like without any irony) that the real stars were still coming. When they did appear they were good sports and hopefully they had a stiff drink afterwards. Helen Dallimore also had a creepy fan who looked like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver give her a stuffed animal and a kiss before she left as well. Lets hope nobody remembers that they were in this production... But the fans of course...

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