Monday, October 01, 2007
Matinees And Musicals
I do like matinees. There’s something rather illicit and exciting about doing during the day what one normally does in the evening (intensified considerably if it happens to be a midweek matinee).
I have a whole other routine with matinees as well, facilitated by the welcome lack of post-work dash – I potter, I dawdle, I browse, I caffeinate myself in an agreeably lingering fashion, and arrive at the theatre with ample time to spare and not breathless and watch-wary and flustered as is often the case in the evening. I used to see a lot more matinees when I lived out in the Surrey suburbs, and a journey into town required a long, crawling train journey, but now, well, my day job precludes daytime cultural activities during the week, and my weekends tend to be eaten up by stuff.
So I was looking forward to seeing Saturday afternoon’s staging of Parade at the Donmar Warehouse. I knew it wasn’t likely to be the cheeriest of things, but I’d enjoyed Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years when it played at the Menier Chocolate Factory last year and was eager to see how you could possibly tackle such a grim subject in song.
Parade is set in Atlanta, Georgia, in the early years of the 20th century. On Confederate Memorial Day, a 13 year old girl is found raped and murdered in the pencil factory where she worked. Suspicion falls on the factory superintendent, Leo Frank, a Jewish man from Brooklyn, an outsider in every sense. He is arrested, tried and sentenced to death. According to the play, a hysteria built up around his case, with several other girls who worked in his factory accusing him of inappropriate behaviour. The police also found an eye witness (an African American former convict) to testify to his guilt. Eventually however his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment. Perhaps predictably, this does not go down well with the local community, who are eager to blame someone for the girl’s death, and they exert a 'justice' of their own – the kind of justice that involves hoods with eye-holes and a long length of rope.
So, there you go. Frothy it is not. It is however very well done. Bertie Carvel is simply superb as Frank, all anxious and twitchy; cold, nervy and somewhat prim. Lara Pulver was also excellent as Frank’s wife Lucille, but I found her character harder to get a handle on, her total devotion and abundant stoic dignity was a little too neat for my liking. Going on what I remember of Five Years, I don’t think Brown does women very well. Frank is such an intriguing, ambiguous figure and Lucille just seemed a bit flat in comparison.
There is much to admire about this production: vocal performances (though I thought the pretty blonde chap in the cheesy civil war prologue was a little shaky), choreography - everything is very well done. There’s just something about the whole enterprise that didn’t sit very well with me. It’s not that musicals need to be all fluff and uplift (indeed those are the shows I usually avoid), but in the case of this complex story, I think I would actually have preferred a more conventional dramatic approach.
Interesting critical split on this one too, with Michael Billington applauding its eloquence and Christopher Hart getting all squeamish about the subject matter - I think I fall somewhere in between (I’d much rather this than Wicked any day), still, it was relief to emerge after two-and-a-bit hours of such darkness to find it still daylight outside.