first night

A...My Name is Alice

Donnchadh O'Connail reviews DULOG's flawed but intriguing production of Silver and Boyd's musical.

Women: can’t live with them, great game last night.

 

A... My Name Is Alice, an American piece written by Joan Micklin Silver and Julianne Boyd with contributions from various different songwriters, marks something of a departure for DULOG in a couple of ways. Firstly, it’s still unusual to see a musical show dominated by female parts, which is rather peculiar given the genre’s fan-base and DULOG’s likely gender make-up. Even more refreshing is the show’s frank feminism, something which does not automatically spring to mind when one thinks of musical theatre. Between this effort and The Threepenny Opera, one wonders if DULOG have been infiltrated by a left-wing cabal, keen to dress up class and gender consciousness in sequins and tap numbers. If so, I can only say it’s about time.

 

Secondly, this isn’t really a musical, more of a cabaret-cum-revue. There was no overall story, the songs were all self-contained, and performers didn’t play recurring roles but rather characters of a particular type, which to a certain degree was reflected in the staging and costumes. Like a sketch troupe, the cast tended to stay in the same clothes from scene to scene, but their apparel was rather more glamorous (Rozi Prekop was the winner here, in a red dress with eye-catching and vaguely oriental patterns). The set was minimal, and occasionally dispensed with entirely. I did feel the show would have benefited from quicker scene changes. It’s not the kind of piece where the audience need to catch their breath after each number, and the more fluid the staging could be, the better. Furthermore, I’m not sure if The Assembly Rooms is an ideal location for such a show. Whatever else you think of it, it’s never going to be confused with a cabaret bar. Alice has some big songs, and the production did incorporate dance numbers, but there was little here which required a large stage or a proscenium arch. It’s a slight pity that the imaginative choice of material wasn’t matched by ingenuity regarding the choice of venue.

 

The simplicity of most of the scenes meant that the staging could often afford to be basic, and Andra Catincescu was right not to complicate matters unduly. However, I did feel she could have been more pro-active in her direction for certain numbers. Some of the solo songs were static to the point of dullness, with little by way of creative lighting to enliven them. I was also confused by the decision to stage so many scenes upstage from the apron, further diluting the intimacy which the show required.

 

I felt the cast were good, but occasionally stretched a little thin. I appreciated it would have diluted the revue feel of the show, but a few more performers would have balanced some of the trickier numbers. For example, I felt Hannah Cope was frequently unable to make best use of her power and smoky voice. On the one occasion she did get to use it properly, the delightful ‘Honeypot’, she savoured every excellent double entendre; but in other numbers, one felt she was driving with the handbrake on, as it were. Similarly, Jessie Keely has a tremendous voice for musical theatre, put to excellent use particularly in her first solo number, but was less accomplished as a dancer. Anna Budgett and Daisy Newlyn were probably the most rounded performers in terms of combining singing, dancing and acting, standing out particularly in the scenes which required demonstrations of all three. Rozi Prekop was possibly underused, which was unfortunate given that she has a sweet, strong voice. Highlights included the aforementioned contributions from Cope and Keely; the ensemble numbers ‘Bluer Than You’ and ‘Emily the MBA’, featuring snappy choreography and a striking light change; and the clever scene riffing on trashy romance novels.

 

As for the male contribution to this production, one must note the irony of the opening number (reprised as the finale), ‘All Girl Band’, being backed by an all-boy combo. A few wobbles in timing apart, Messrs. McFarlane, Miall and Hughes were very tight. And a special mention must go to David Head in his various roles as Random Men. Hello, David.

 

So dear reader, should you see Alice? It depends what you’re looking for. It’s not an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular; it doesn’t have a cast of thousands, or a budget to match. But if you’re interested in a different kind of musical, one that in many instances makes a virtue of doing without these standbys of the genre, then it’s worth a look.

 

3 March 2011

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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