CD Review: Thérèse Raquin (2014 Original London Cast)

“You are not still, you are not still Thérèse”

There are times when listening to cast recordings can sometimes feel like a chore, and others when they are a glorious reminder of shows gone by. For me, hearing the utterly gorgeous waterfall of voices on ‘You Are Not Still Thérèse’ from Craig Adams’ Thérèse Raquin is very much in the latter category, one of those moments of musical theatre perfection that work as music, as drama, as theatre, as pure art.
Adams and Nona Shepphard’s adaptation of Zola’s novel played at the Finborough in 2014 and then transferred to the larger Park in one of those really sensible moments theatreland sometimes has. Musically complex and dramatically interesting as a radical interpretation of the book, it delved deep into Thérèse’s psychology and aided by a stunning performance from Julie Atherton, worked beautifully.

The score stands up well on disc, its through-sung narrative clear as a bell and really assisted by the introduction of a sonorous Greek chorus of Claire Greenway, Ellie Kirk and Lucy O’Byrne who provide commentary and alternative takes on the tragic events. Atherton connects viscerally with illicit love Laurent, a virile Greg Barnett and contemptuously with husband Jeremy Legat’s Camille to bring real fire to their love triangle and its consequences, the climactic ‘If I Had Known’ is just devastatingly good.
But it’s the combination of them with the complex choral work of the company that really makes this an extraordinary musical, rich and evocative in a way that is all too rarely seen in new musicals, certainly on larger stages, and so it’s a real boon to have this recording to remember the show by and hopefully spearhead a fine set of revivals to come.

CD Review: Lift (Concept Album)

One minute in a lift…”

Craig Adams and Ian Watson’s Lift played the Soho Theatre early in 2013 but before then, a concept album of the show was released with Perfect Pitch. The conceit of the musical is ingeniously simple – 8 strangers taking a minute-long trip in a lift in Covent Garden tube station but as they rise to the surface, we visit into the innermost thoughts of all of them and see how precariously poised their lives are, one little word or action could change everything if only they were brave enough to actually do it.

At not much over an hour and with a lot to fit in, not only is there the establishment of character but also a decision to show how interconnected their lives all are, Lift isn’t always as successful as it promises to be. Songs get fragmented and finish too abruptly as the perspective needs to swivel onto the next character, and it relies on a great deal of contrivance to force the narrative throughline into place very much at the expense of making us engage with this motley crew. Continue reading “CD Review: Lift (Concept Album)”

Re-review: Thérèse Raquin, Park Theatre

“They are drawn by the inescapable promptings of their flesh!”

A well-deserved transfer for this hit Finborough musical although coming a few months after that original run, the production has had to be recast a bit along with being reconceived for the larger space of the Park Theatre. On a personal note, whilst I loved being able to listen to the pleasingly textured score once again, it was also interesting to come back to the show with a much greater knowledge of the story, having recently seen both a play and a film of Thérèse Raquin, thus enabling me to compare and contrast adaptations.

This version hedges its bets from the beginning by describing itself as a “radical adaptation” by Nona Shepphard but what is interesting is that Shepphard is the only one who tries to replicate something of Thérèse’s interior life, which is so richly portrayed in the novel, by using a chorus of three river women. It works both dramatically and musically, creating additional layers to the vocals and these hints of Greek tragedy with its chorus passing commentary is used effectively elsewhere, most notably in reporting the news of Camille’s tragic ‘accident’.

Continue reading “Re-review: Thérèse Raquin, Park Theatre”

Review: Thérèse Raquin, Finborough

“Blood and nerves…blood and nerves”

Rather oddly, I’ve already seen the first half of Craig Adams and Nona Shepphard’s powerful new musical Thérèse Raquin. It was featured as part of the Vibrant play readings festival in 2012 with the promise that the rest of the show would follow swiftly and sure enough, the full production has now materialised in the intimacy of this West London venue (supplemented once again with a drinking venue beneath).

Musically, it is a beautifully rich and pleasingly intricate piece. Adams’ score has near-operatic quality, a denseness of recitative that conjures up worlds of feeling more effectively than traditional song-writing could ever do. It can be challenging at times, especially on first listen, but there’s something exciting about the scope of ambition here, a determination to tread a singular path that bodes well for British musical theatre writing. Continue reading “Review: Thérèse Raquin, Finborough”

Review: Lift, Soho Theatre

“I keep telling myself if this is happening, it will happen in time”

A musical looking at “love, life and loss in a London lift”, Craig Adams and Ian Watson’s Lift is a thing to treasure in and of itself – a new British musical. Adams started writing the song cycle in 2005 and following the nurturing development of Perfect Pitch and its housing in the welcoming arms of the Soho Theatre – both necessarily ardent supporters of new musical theatre writing – it now makes its world premiere. The show looks at a cross-section of contemporary London life, taking its sample from the inhabitants of a lift at Covert Garden tube station as their lives intersect in the 54 seconds it takes to surface and then scatter to the wind on departing it.

The central conceit is that even though we may not make eye contact with the people next to us on tube journeys, our lives are more connected than we know and so we see the paths of these eight characters cross again in varied and unexpected ways. It’s a neat concept but one which falls a little short in the execution, coming across as too haphazard in its bringing together of such disparate elements – we long for more of a connection, both between the characters but also between the characters and the audience, the device of the lift just doesn’t feel strong enough.  Continue reading “Review: Lift, Soho Theatre”

Not-a-review: Thérèse Raquin, Finborough

The Finborough’s Vibrant festival has been running for 3 years now, offering an opportunity to catch pieces of new writing and works-in-progress from the vast number of playwrights with some connection to the West London theatre. I’ve attended a few of these readings in the past and am loving the fact that I will soon have the opportunity to see a full production of one of them early next year as Mike Bartlett’s Bull makes its bow up in Sheffield.

Catching my eye this year though was the chance to see a musical version of Thérèse Raquin with music by Craig Adams and book and lyrics by Nona Shepphard. We were treated to the first half in its entirety and remarkably, a cast of 13 gathered to give full voice to this intriguingly pitched musical which lies, in the astute words of my companion for the evening, ‘between Les Mis and Sunday in the Park with George”. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Thérèse Raquin, Finborough”

Review: A Song Cycle for Soho, Soho Theatre

“If you’re feeling low low, get down to Madame JoJo’s”

Featuring the vocal talents of Michael Cantwell, James Gillan, Niamh Perry and Claire Moore, and showcasing the work of musical theatre writers both established but primarily up and coming, A Song Cycle for Soho marks yet another feather in the cap for Mercury Musical Development, Simon Greiff and their sterling support for the genre. MMD has long been an invaluable resource for British musical theatre writers and Simon Greiff through SimG Productions has been tireless in his promotion of younger names and so there is something very apt about their collaboration here.

A Song Cycle for Soho developed out of Andrew Brinded’s original book which cast a bit of a sideways glance at Soho, an area of central London that is teeming with debauchery,history, character and a whole lot more besides. 16 set of songwriters were then invited to compose works that captured the multitudinous quirkiness of life in Soho and the result is a collection of songs that cover history, both recent and long ago, and the modern day; comedy, quiet tragedy and the whole gamut of crazy emotions inbetween. Continue reading “Review: A Song Cycle for Soho, Soho Theatre”

CD Review: Julie Atherton – No Space for Air

“If I opened my heart, there’d be no space for air”

Given that, as regular readers will know, I tend to think of Julie Atherton as something close to the Second Coming, I was a little trepidatious at the prospect of her new CD No Space for Air when it was first announced as an album embracing her rockier side and moving away from the musical theatre repertoire she is best known for. I almost cracked when I heard there was a Linkin Park song on there as I have never knowingly listened to one of their songs in my life! But I stuck with it, trusted in Julie, and was rewarded with a great listen.

For if there is a rock chick inside Atherton, it is a fairly mellow one. The aforementioned Linkin Park song ‘Crawling’ is a gorgeous string-laden number with gently strummed guitars a little at odds with the angst-ridden lyrics: a very pleasant surprise but I’m happy without ever having to listen to the original. Likewise, Skunk Anansie’s ‘Weak’ is stripped back to an almost acoustic rendition, piano-led this time but equally raw lyrically, showing a different side but still feeling authentic. Including Tori Amos’ quirky ‘Leather’ is a nice touch, allowing a little vocal playfulness, but a rendition of Shawn Colvin’s ‘Never Saw Blue Like That’ is probably the best thing on the album. Performed with such subtle restraint with a simple guitar accompaniment, it is just captivating. Continue reading “CD Review: Julie Atherton – No Space for Air”