03 November 2009

Arturo Brachetti's "Change" - Garrick Theatre, Wednesday 4th November 2009

Synopsis (from the Garrick Theatre website):

The world’s greatest quick-change artist Arturo Brachetti presents the world premiere of his new show written and directed by Sean Foley. In an amazing display of virtuosic skill that simply has to be seen to be believed, Arturo Brachetti brings over one hundred characters to the stage in a unique and spectacular show. From James Bond to the Queen via Johnny Rotten, he transforms between characters in the blink of an eye in an astonishing display of the time-honoured art of quick change.

Arturo’s own distinct brands of humour and charm combine with eye-popping illusions in a show that tells the story of a famed entertainer whose memories of his illustrious career come to life.

Well, what a bizarre night. Him Indoors was convinced that we were going to see Ennio Marchetto even though I’d done my best to persuade him otherwise. Trouble is, I couldn’t come up with his name to do a google search, and the keywords “Italian paper costumes” didn’t really come up with any possibilities. So, we didn’t get to see someone lip-synching Britney Spears and Edith Piaf. Which was a shame.

Having said that, it looked like the audience was doing its best to provide a display of outrageous outfits anyway. Five rows in front we had the old chap in a broadly-striped boating blazer and tie made of exactly the same material so he looked like at least one of his parents had been a deckchair, next to whom was a VERY expensively coiffured woman who looked like she should have been at the opera instead. Immediately in front of us we had the Scum Family, complete with 16 year old son wearing a Burberry Alice band, to the left an impassive Italian with the biggest afro I’ve ever seen on a white man. To the right, an old guy in carpet slippers and a slightly grubby parka (who took a tube of Rolos out of his pocket, opened it, put one in his mouth, put the tube back in his pocket, chewed the Rolo, swallowed it, took the tube out of his pocket, opened it, put one in his mouth…. repeat until tube empty, then drop wrapping on the floor), in the row immediately behind a black guy wearing dark glasses and a trilby. Somewhere off to the right a pair of very expensively suited Suits next to four Japanese lady tourists of decreasing height looking like those wooden dolls you unscrew to find a smaller one inside and, three rows behind us, Bobby Davro (mums and dads, boys and girls!), who spent the entire evening laughing in the manner of Zippy from Rainbow. So, the bello mondo, the alto mondo, the meta-mondotutti, in fact. I think the phrase they use in Theatre-speak is “heavily papered, dharling” – either that or the management were standing on Charing Cross Road with an extremely large butterfly net and dragging in anyone they could catch with it. In fact, we were the only normal people there.

Brachetti’s show is a strange thing, neither fish nor fowl. Essentially he is a quick-change artist/magician, and if you had seen one of his routines involving magic tricks, quick change, shadow puppetry etc on something like the Royal Variety Performance (not that any of my readers would ever watch such a thing) it would completely blow you away. But two hours of it and you start to get desensitised to exactly how incredible the whole thing is. Another problem is that his material is essentially old-fashioned variety but wrapped up in a modern theatrical way; I had to describe it later to someone as a stainless steel gift box with a copy of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady inside – the two elements feel forced together and somewhat at odds with each other. And because of this, I think that the audience didn’t really know how to react to a lot of it. I mean, what would you make of going to the theatre and sitting watching someone making shadow puppets of bunnies and elephants on a big screen? Yes, I bet the Victorians would have loved it…Him Indoors, of course, loved it but then Him Indoors loves Ken Dodd, for pete’s sake.

Another problem with Brachetti’s material is that it is very uneven. Some of it is brilliant, highly entertaining in a kind of “end of the pier show” kinda way, with spectacular routines involving magic and mind-bogglingly fast costume changes. But this takes a long time to arrive – the first long section of the evening is merely him assuming different characters via costume changes and – basically – standing there waiting for the applause. Which sometimes fails to come. The “linking device” between each section is a rather grandiose multimedia “dialogue” between his “older self” and his “younger self” about “the final transformation”, which turns out to be death itself; all this feels laboured and completely at odd with what we are actually there in the theatre to see. The long end section is based around, and laden with references to, Fellini’s films, starting with The Clowns, then moving to 9½, La Dolce Vita and La Strada. Now, like it or not and however much theatregoers might like to deceive themselves and others about how well they know the works of Fellini, this fell spectacularly flat as it flew completely over the head of the vast majority of people.

The best section was undoubtedly the opening of the second half – a long, visually witty and extremely funny tribute to some of Hollywood’s greatest films. Using the enormous spinning “box of tricks” on the stage as an ever changing backdrop with projected images, doors, windows, ladders and screens, Brachetti proceeds to affectionately send up Nosferatu, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, Gone with the Wind, Carmen Miranda films, Shrek, Star Wars, the Harry Potter films, Frankenstein, Lord of the Rings, Titanic, King Kong, Jaws, ET and Cabaret (among others) in an almost never-ending stream of visual jokes and costume changes. Because the very vast majority of these films are cross-cultural references, everyone “got” practically every joke and I thought Bobby Davro (mums and dads, boys and girls!) was going to wet himself. It was brilliant – exceptionally clever, wonderfully paced and something I would happily sit and watch again. Unfortunately, it was followed by the Fellini sequence and this completely deflated the audience again. All in all, the evening was very much like the “Curate’s Egg” – good in parts. But parts of it definitely didn’t work for me, or for many other people by the sound of the very muted applause at times.

Still, I did manage to send an email today to the theatre journalist who wrote an article for the programme and correct a couple of points he made about two Shakespeare plays. Which was nice.

What the critics thought:





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