23 August 2011

Road Show - Menier Chocolate Factory, Wednesday 17th August 2011


After the death of Addison Mizner, people who knew him, including his estranged lover Hollis Bessemer, comment on his life and the way he squandered his talents. Addisonclaims that his brother Wilson was the cause of all his failures.

On his deathbed, Papa Mizner charges his sons with the task of using their gifts to shape America. Mama Mizner tells the brothers that their family's wealth has been eaten away by Papa's long illness and advises them to seek gold in Alaska; Addison is reluctant, but goes along with Wilson anyway.
In Alaska, Wilson leaves to get supplies while Addison works the claim: Wilson is lured into a game of poker, which he is initially bad at but masters quickly. Addison comes to find him, and is shocked to discover that his brother has become a gambler. Wilson stakes their gold claim in a poker game and wins the saloon in which the game is taking place.
Addison leaves in disgust with his share of winnings and travels around the world searching for business opportunities and a sense of purpose . All of his ventures fail due to bad luck, and he is left with nothing but a collection of souvenirs - but the souvenirs inspire him to take up architecture so that he can design a house in which to show them off. Meanwhile, Wilson's businesses in Alaska have failed, and he comes south in the hopes of getting help from Addison. Addison has only just begun to practice as an architect, and Wilson seduces and marries his first client, a rich widow, and fritters away her money on various flashy endeavours. Mama Mizner, who is being looked after by Addison and never receives any visits from Wilson, enjoys reading about Wilson's exploits.. Only Addison remains uncharmed by Wilson, and when Wilson finally comes back, his resources exhausted, he finds that Mama has died in his absence. Addison angrily throws Wilson out of the house.
Later, there is a land boom in Florida. Addison travels to Palm Beach to take advantage of the many rich people settling there. On the train he meets Hollis Bessemer, with whom he is instantly smitten. Hollis explains his situation: he is the son of a wealthy industrialist, but he has been cut off by his father for refusing to enter the family business. His real passion is art, and although he is not himself talented enough to become an artist, he dreams of creating an artists' colony in Palm Beach.
Hollis and Addison arrive at Palm Beach, and Addison shows Hollis's aunt a plan for a house he proposes to build for her. Impressed, she agrees and offers to sponsor the artists' colony. However, Hollis and Addison, now lovers, are too busy designing resort homes for the rich and enjoying each other's company - until Wilson arrives destitute and sick. Addison reluctantly takes him in, and when Wilson has recovered he begins to work on Hollis, persuading him to be a patron to his newest scheme: to build a brand-new city in Boca Raton with Wilson as promoter and Addison as chief architect.

But Wilson's conman instincts resurge, and he promotes the Boca Raton real estate scheme with increasingly extravagant and eventually fraudulent claims, Addison goes along with this, and it is Hollis who finally puts a stop to both the real estate scheme and his relationship with Addison. Brought to a state of desperation by all that has happened, Addison tells Wilson to get out of his life

Returning to the first scene, Wilson realises that he, too, has died. Their differences no longer mattering enough to keep them apart, the brothers set out together on the road to eternity.
Addison Mizner – Michael Jibson
Wilson Mizner – David Bedella
Mama Mizner – Gillian Bevan
Papa Mizner – Glyn Kerslake
Hollis Bessemer – Jon Robyns

Creative team:
Music and Lyrics- Stephen Sondheim
Director/set design – John Doyle
Costume – Matthew Wright
Lighting – Jane Cox

First, it is necessary to go back in time a bit. A couple of years ago, Him Indoors was muttering on about a gap in his collection of Sondheim CD. Something called Bounce. I hunted around on the internet, found a recording, bought it, wrapped it up. It was opened, duly listened to (while I was out) and more or less dismissed as “not that good – you can see why it never made it on Broadway”. The CD went into the rack and was more or less forgotten about; I don’t think it ever came off the shelf again. So much for birthday presents. Nothing more was said about it, And then about 6 weeks or so ago, a friend rang up and started gushing about something called Road Show. I didn’t think anything more about it, until Him Indoors announced that “The Menier are doing that new Sondheim show”. What new Sondheim show? “It was originally called Bounce and its now called Road Show. I suppose we’d better go see it, even though its dreadful”. If its that dreadful, why are we going? “I got cheap tickets”. Aha. We know its going to be dreadful but The Great God of Cheap Tickets has deemed that we go anyway. So I started planning the review in my mind – something about deformed offspring and the story of how this particular child been locked up in the attic by Papa Stephen and had now been let loose to horrify London’s Sondheim fans when it should really have been drowned in a barrel of rainwater at birth. You know, kind of a cross between Jane Eyre and Frankenstein, with a few touches of Rebecca. Reader, never let someone else’s opinion colour your judgement. go unlock the attic, turn on the light and take a look – and THEN make up your mind. For Road Show is (to further mangle the literary analogy) more like The Elephant Man than Frankenstein. Its unwieldy and somewhat misshapen sure; but underneath its perfectly sound and has not a certain lumpy charm all its own. Its not a Follies, Night Music or Into the Woods to be sure but, you know, all families have their black sheep. And to quote The Sound of Music: “the wool of a black sheep is just as warm”. I’ve have liked to have seen some information in the programme about the show’s genesis – were the Menier expecting all the Sondheimites to have this information at their expensively manicured fingertips?
What the Menier have done is work their own kind of magic on this ugly duckling (more mangling of analogies) and have managed to turn it into a reasonably respectable goose. There are a few golden eggs because people will go see anything that’s got “Stephen Sondheim” written all over it, and certainly one currently has to budge up quite a lot in the Menier’s rather cramped seats. If you’re not careful, you might have to sit next to a West End Whinger. Be warned though – 1) there is no interval (what it is with directors specifying “no interval” at the moment? 2) don’t be late and 3) once you’re in, you’re in for the duration – the way the show is presented means that you and your dicky bladder are just going to have to cross your legs and hope.

Various items of furniture are heaped along the two short ends of the performance space (with the audience sit in rows along the long ends) – this means that the very noisy air conditioning unit is at least partially hidden - and these are moved around and clambered all over in a fashion that reminded me very much of a previous Menier Gem (Flight, which should have got more recognition). In fact, its difficult to see how it could be presented otherwise – there are so many scenes and world locations that it would be practically impossible to perform the piece as a conventional production. Its still slightly unwieldy – there are some parts that seem far too long (the extended travelogue sequence), things that are under-developed (Sondheim’s first ever gay lovers), things that could have been jettisoned, things that could have been added (an interval – an hour and three quarters may not sound that long, but believe me, its too long). What makes it feel slightly hackneyed, I think is the fact that it’s a bit of a conventional plot for Sondheim – the life story of two brothers, neither of whom are without their faults, dealing with whatever cards Fate happens to deal them and trying to make the best of it in their own particular way. The “biography show” is a slightly old-fashioned concept, and I’m not entirely sure why Sondheim decided to use it. What is even more hackneyed is that Sondheim falls right into the expected trap of making one brother much more sympathetic and likeable than the other. Its almost as if the audience is being asked to cheer the hero and hiss the baddy at some points. So the evening is not without its faults, but neither is it without its good points. What disappointed me was that I had to jettison the review that was forming in my head before seeing it and realising that I would have to start from scratch, rather than it bursting from my forehead fully formed onto the page. Instead, as usual, I have had to sit here chewing a pencil and staring into space as usual, having to delete whole paragraphs because they were going nowhere and utilising “cut and paste” far too much to get this review born. So I feel sorry for Mr. Sondheim and his attempts to rehabilitate his deformed child. It can be difficult being a genius (and if you think that sounded pompous, I had intended to write something about incubating ideas for a long time and then finding that they hatched out all ugly. I even tried to lever in a witty play on the words oeuf and oeuvre but believe me, it didn’t fly).

What the reviews said:



http://www.fourthwallmagazine.co.uk/2011/07/review-road-show-menier-chocolate-factory/ (by heck, this is pompous)

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