Review: Imagine This, Union

“There’s singing, there’s dancing, and all the Jews die in the end”

The West End production of Imagine This lasted for barely a month in 2008, so it usually one of the first shows named when it comes to lists of notorious flops. Which might explain, at least partly, why it has taken nearly a decade for anyone to go near the show again, that honour going to first-time director Harry Blumenau who is now mounting the musical at the Union Theatre, in a well-cast production seeking to reassess that reputation.

For me, as a first-timer to the show, it didn’t feel hard to see why it didn’t succeed. Glenn Berenbeim’s grimly stoic book is set in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 where a group of actors are trying to lift spirits by staging a play. And not just any play, it’s the story of the siege of Masada, a historical act of Jewish resistance and thereby flicking the v-sign to the Nazis. But Berenbeim attempts to gild the lily by throwing a would-be epic romance which ultimately cheapens the narrative fatally. Continue reading “Review: Imagine This, Union”

Review: Love Story, Jack Studio Theatre

“You only reap the harvest that you sow”

Howard Goodall and Stephen Clark’s lush musical take on Erich Segal’s perennial tearjerker Love Story gained critical if not commercial success with its West End run back in 2010, but its beautiful music can now be heard live again with its off-West-End premiere at the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley. It was always a chamber piece and so it suits the intimacy of this fringe venue well and in Joseph C Walsh’s clever and unmiked production, it provides a welcome reminder of one of the best new British musical scores of recent times.

But though it is musically excellent, the book does contain issues and they are sadly all-too-apparent in this interpretation. The story telescopes the entirety of Jenny Cavilleri and Oliver Barrett IV’s five year relationship, from its spiky college beginnings through marriage beds and [spoiler alert, although not really…] hospital beds to its tragic end, into 90 minutes of fast-flowing narrative and song. But it is so fast, so relentless, that it is difficult to really invest emotionally into the characters as they are written here – the show thus relies on pre-knowledge of the story and from the transcendent strength of the performances (Emma Williams and Michael Xavier both excelling in this respect in the West End). Continue reading “Review: Love Story, Jack Studio Theatre”