Thursday, 28 June 2012

Review: Ghost the Musical, Piccadilly Theatre, Saturday 23rd June 7.30pm

I think I may have found a musical to add to the favourites list just as it’s about to leave London. I have to admit I was sceptical at first. Not so much because of the story or the music – I love the film and the music (written by Eurythmics Dave Stewart & six time grammy award winner Glen Ballard) sounded good. Though, I have to say  it wasn't until I saw the show and experienced the emotion of the music first hand that I really appreciated how brilliant the soundtrack is.

The reason I was initially sceptical was because I knew that there was a lot of automation, video and projection used as set and I was worried about a high tech take-over of theatre would ruin the magical atmosphere created by imagination and make it more like the experience of watching a film.

Even as I sat in my seat (row A in the centre – not too shabby for a last minute theatre ticket at half price eh? God bless tkts London) I still felt unsure about it. As the show began, projections played out over the gauze and the large screens moved around into position with the relevant images being thrown across them I could feel the doubt about this show seeping in.

Then I noticed how it all reminded me of Times Square and from there came the quick realisation that actually it has been designed, very cleverly, in this way to convey that bustling, never sleeping, workaholic New York feel. Thinking about the story – how Carls obsession with money and the materialistic costs Sam his life – I realised you can also glean a message from the design about the sensory overstimulation when living somewhere like New York. The constant bombardment of images and sounds creating a materialism and greed that doesn’t consider cost.  A message that can also be taken from the song ‘More’:-

                “We’re just playing a numbers game.
                And every second those numbers change.
                This is what I live to feel
                It’s the beauty of the deal....”

Incidentally, this may be my favourite riff(?) in the show.

Though the main story is certainly about the love between Molly and Sam that survives beyond his death, once I noticed the sub-theme I couldn’t stop picking up on little things.

Such as the choreography. Lots of people seemed to dislike it as it can be quite mechanical and choppy. But I found it really helped set the atmosphere. The movement is also very carefully and cleverly considered, it seems to me - as the office drones the dancer’s movements are mechanical because their lives are mechanical – their lives are about working to achieve the material things they think they need. For the moments when it needed to set the bustling scene of typical New York it was urban, gritty and sexually charged. I loved the moment on the tube where they’re getting thrown about by the subway ghost and they barely even seem to notice. They just sit back down after wards – like they’ve become so jaded by the city that nothing phases them.

So I think it’s really important to acknowledge the creative team on this show, in particular the set designer Rob Howell (who actually won a whatsonstage award for his design for both Ghost and Matilda and an Olivier for Matilda) the choreographer Ashley Wallen and Liam Steel for the Additional Movement Sequences.

On to the cast – there wasn’t a weak link in the lot and I think that’s quite rare in an age where roles are often stunt cast, regardless of talent. They could all sing, act and dance – even if the accents were a little dodgy at times.

Siobhan Dillon as Molly and Mark Evans as Sam, were both as fantastic as I expected them to be and really made me believe in their characters love. 

My  favourites, though, were Andrew Langtree as Carl Bruner and Sharon D Clarke as Oda Mae Brown.

Andrew Langtree portrays the characters dripping corporate sleaziness through demeanour and the way he talks and moves. You can really sense his need to have everything – by whatever means necessary. And who doesn't love a good baddie? 

Sharon D Clarke had the mannerisms of the character we love so much from the film down to perfection. It was as though she has studied Whoopie Goldburg’s portrayal in depth. Perhaps it would have been nice to have a bit of her own interpretation in there too, though?

If you go to see Ghost the Musical for no other reason, though, go for the illusions (created by Paul Kieve). Wow, I was blown away. I’ve studied technical theatre, which to be honest has spoilt the magic of some stage illusions, but the magic was reclaimed in this show. I really couldn’t figure it out. I can guess at some of the elements that made it work (which I won’t theorise about here, as I wouldn’t want to take anything away from a person going to see it for the first time) but how those elements worked to create the ghostly illusions, I just don’t know. For me, this is wonderful. It’s like being a child again and being completely swept away in the magic.

So, go, be swept away in the magic currently happening at the Piccadilly Theatre, before the shows own untimely end in October later this year.

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