BWW Review: HELLO AGAIN, Union Theatre
The Union Theatre has never looked more gorgeous - to be honest, it's often looked a lot less than gorgeous. But Ben Bull's lighting, Paul Callen's staging, using the full depth of the space available and Reuben Speed's costumes gives this show a look that is spartan, but perfectly judged.
So far, so good, but it's a musical and if you're looking for what really makes or breaks the production, the clue's in the label. Michael John LaChiusa's score is eclectic - each decade of the 20th century gets a song - but hangs together through its luscious melodies, tunes into which one feels one might dive and not come up for a very long time. Credit too, to Henry Brennan's orchestrations which suit his keys, cello and drums ensemble perfectly, the sound balanced nicely with the vocals.
The book is based on Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde, inspiration for many a production, its daisy-chain of lovers irresistible to writers. LaChiusa's masterstroke was to make the sequence of scenes non-chronological - so the same character appears in the next scene, aged not a day, decades apart. That sheds light on the nature of love (and lust) in different periods and allows a gay guy on the make to survive The Titanic in one scene and gain a foothold in a Tarantinoesque 70s Hollywood in the next.
The singing is as good as I've heard it at this venue - which is to say, very good indeed. Grace Roberts as The Young Wife trapped in a marriage reeking of lavender and Amy Parker as an divaish actress in the last days of silent movies, may be the picks, but there's not a weak er... link in the mainly young cast.
What lets down the show a little is a rather prissy approach to the central er.. thrust of the ten vignettes - sex. Sex - especially this kind of transgressive, hurried occasionally desperate sex - is a messy affair, full of sweat, stains and secretions. These couples may be lit like silhouettes from the Pop-Up Kama Sutra when the beast with two backs makes its appearance, but I've seen figures more flushed after five minutes of Pilates.
That matters, as does the sheer volume of garments retained, because, as the music and lyrics tells us, these people are often at the end of their tethers, willing to risk so much for that fleeting moment of desire fulfilled (and desire created) - and the stakes just don't seem high enough if the outcome is so flat.
That said, at least the very old school (even for 25 years ago when the show first ran off-Broadway) sexual politics of the first three scenes thankfully receded and it was good to see some, if certainly not all, of the rainbow palette of sexuality acknowledged.
In any case, in these post-Weinstein days, that stuff is almost impossible to get right and I, for one, wasn't offended - so who knows about anyone else.
What endures is the music, played live and sung so passionately and skilfully. The Union Theatre has, not for the first time, unearthed a gem of a show and brought it back to life for London audiences to enjoy.
Photo Mark Senior