Friday, July 27, 2007
Something To See Here
Hurrah! Finally, I have been to the theatre. To the Menier Chocolate Factory in fact to see Take Flight, a new musical, by John Weidman, David Shire and Richard Maltby Jr, that interweaves the stories of the early pioneers of flying: the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart
The Menier is at its best with musicals, and while this show is far from perfect, it’s vastly more interesting and engaging than their last offering, the lumpy and unfunny All Mouth. Take Flight is about individuals who strive to do the impossible. It looks at what drives people to want to take to the air in an era where, more often than not, they would lose their lives in the attempt (or as the show’s narrator of sorts, the inventor Otto Lillienthal amusingly puts it: go ‘pfft’). Are these people visionaries, or, well, just a bit odd?
The answer appears to be a bit of both. Lindbergh is depicted as so cripplingly shy that flying solo is his only pleasure and the Wright Brothers exist in their own little nerdy world (“don’t have houses, don’t have wives, don’t have prospects, don’t have lives.”). Earhart is an independent spirit, who needs to constantly challenge herself in order to feel alive. She views the idea of settling down with her publisher husband, George Putnam with something akin to dread.
By necessity this is a musical of ideas, rather than visual spectacle. The flying scenes are simulated by the actors sitting on stepladders and jiggling about a bit (and though there’ll be a model plane going spare soon, once The Drowsy Chaperone closes, I doubt they could fit it in the Menier, so stepladders will have to suffice).
With a couple of exceptions the songs are rather samey – there’s little here that will be adding itself to your internal iPod – but the show’s sub-Sondheim style has its moments of wit and inspiration. Sally Anne Triplett’s Earhart is supposed to provide the emotional core of the piece but I was more taken with Michael Jibson’s pallid, introverted Lindberg, unfortunately his character is given little room for development.
Though flawed there is something genuinely uplifting about Take Flight if you’ll excuse the pun, it’s a celebration of what people can achieve, it’s about progress and hope, rather than the fear and apprehension about the future that seems so globally pervasive at the moment.
And, excitement of excitements, (well perhaps that’s overstating it, but still, anyway, good thing) the Menier has finally invested in an air conditioning unit! This will surely gladden anyone who sweated through The Last Five Years there last summer.