“Actors can never get enough love”
The Landor Theatre in Clapham scored a major success with the Ahrens and Flaherty musical Ragtime last year and subsequently have begun to explore some of the lesser performed shows from their repertoire. February saw their first piece Lucky Stiff getting an airing and now it is the turn of their most recent collaboration from 2007, The Glorious Ones, in its European premiere.
We follow a theatre group in Renaissance Italy as they ply their trade in commedia dell’Arte, enacting their ‘improvised’ scenes with their stock characters – from whom they are not so distinct any more – and so through these, we find out about their loves and lives as actors on the road. Flaminio Scala founded the troupe and is a master at the broad, bawdy comedy, but finds that tastes are changing as its crudeness is eschewed for a turn towards scripted theatre and younger players challenge his leading man status and struggles to deal with the change.
Making his musical theatre debut in the lead role of Flaminio is Mike Christie, formerly of X-Factor popopera act G4, but it is a challenge that stretches him possibly a little too far. He’s underpowered in his vocal delivery both speaking, and surprisingly whilst singing, and he could afford to delve much more into the rakish charisma and dark moods of this figure. It also means his scenes with love interest Columbina are somewhat imbalanced as Kate Brennan’s beautifully buxom performance swells with personality and panache.
But along with Brennan, the rest of the ensemble do a sterling job. Replacing the injured Peter Gerald, there’s an astonishingly accomplished turn from David Muscat as Dottore – whose second act number Rise and Fall is a highlight of the show – it’s incredible to think he has stepped in with just a few days notice as he seems fully at ease in the role (given his performance in the stellar Guys and Dolls upstairs at the Gatehouse, he’s most definitely going to be one to watch). And there’s also good work from Jodie Beth Meyer, Christopher Berry and a sadly under-used Peter Straker.
Ultimately though, the show struggles to make sufficient impact due to its construction. The tableaux that are performed may call back to commedia dell’arte, but continually interrupt the narrative flow that there is. They maintain an air of tweeness, not particularly unpleasant but neither really conducive to the profundity the show reaches for in its climax. Musically, Flaherty does solid if a little indistinct work but lyrically, Ahrens finds little depth to accompany the bawdiness.
The show is further hemmed in by Martin Thomas’ design which, although using gauze screens most effectively for the opening and closing scenes, has the added effect of constricting the space available in the already limited Landor – creating a few perilous moments where actors are climbing over audience legs. When the production is allowed to fully breathe though, particularly under the glorious musical direction of Joanna Cichonska leading strings and woodwind from the piano, one is reminded of the Landor’s exceptional skill in making fringe musicals that matter