“This is how it starts”
I haven’t been able to make any of From Page to Stage this year, the Landor’s new musical theatre writing season full of short runs and showcases, so I was pleased to be able to get into the very last show. The Mistress Cycle is an 80 minute song cycle written by Beth Blatt with music by Jenny Giering, which takes a look at mistresses past and present as a modern-day New Yorker wrestles with the morality of falling for a married man.
So we hear about Lulu White, a brothel madam from turn of the century New Orleans, Diane du Poitiers who was the lover of 16th century French King Henri III, the teenage concubine of a 12th century Chinese master and contemporary erotic writer Anaïs Nin. Blatt presents the variety of reasons that have led these women to take control of their sexuality and deploy it as they see fit, yet leaves their stories ambiguous enough for us to make our own judgements.
But as the one who brings them altogether in her mind (and more figuratively in the photo gallery where she’s holding an exhibition), Tess feels much less developed, much less compelling as a central figure. The variety of Giering’s piano-based music works well though, reflecting the different backgrounds of these women yet still feeling like a coherent whole, the intimate chamber piece definitely being the right format for the show.
Bronagh Lagan’s production is blessed with a strong cast – Nicola Blackman, Maria Lawson, Laura Armstrong, Kara Lane and Caroline Deverill – and as a work-in-progress, shouldn’t need too much work to potentially progress to some kind of future life.