Axes to grind: Violet @charingcrossthr
A game of poker, a greyhound bus trip and a few stops at whorehouses of America lead to salvation. Or so it appears in Violet, a musical getting its UK premiere at Charing Cross Theatre. An inspired production set in the traverse and a stellar cast are somewhat let down by a superficial story. And sound that made it difficult to hear what people were singing about.
Violet is set in 1964 North Carolina. It's about a young woman who was disfigured as child when her father was careless with an axe. With her life savings she travels on a bus trip across the country in search of a miracle healer and tele-evangelist in Oklahoma. Along the way she strikes up a friendship with benefits with two young soldiers.
With this setup I was half expecting a Dogfight on the bus. But instead of some kinda time, things are kept bright and sweet with its bluegrass score by Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley. But soon the sweetness becomes relentless. By the time you're half way through you're already in a diabetic shock from the soaring melodies and lyrical platitudes. There's lots of music, but none allow for anything other than a skin deep examination of the characters.
As Violet Kaisa Hammarlund seems full of boundless enthusiasm that makes the piece fun to watch and worth the journey. Jay Marsh as the sensitive soldier Flick also has some great scenes and strong vocals. Rounding out the love triangle Matthew Harvey also makes his presence felt as the beefy soldier who shows Violet a good time.
The production moves the action further into the theatre with its traverse staging and revolve. It looks great with its with wooden panels covered with body parts ripped from magazines. But even if the sight lines are improved, the sound seems muffled. Particularly when the ensemble is on stage, making it hard to follow what's going on.
Directed by Shuntaro Fujita, this is a co-production with Umeda Arts and will transfer to Tokyo after it concludes its run at the Charing Cross Theatre on 6 April.
Photos by Scott Rylander