Theatre in Wales

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Hello Again- Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama , Bute Theatre, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama , February 13, 2010
At RWCMD by Hello Again- Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Arthur Schnitzler is probably the greatest writer to be not much known here. “Too much delving into the psychological dark” says Nicholas Wright “the British don't like it.” A doctor by day, his out of hours’activity produced a stream of plays, short stories and novels. At times an adherent to traditional forms he was at others equally an experimenter in form- his short story “Leutnant Gustl” created the stream of consciousness narrative a dozen years before Joyce did his Molly Bloom soliloquy. His 1897 play “Reigen”, an outrage in its time, is now best known through the filter of Max Ophuls’ film. Sublime as it is an Ophuls film is primarily an exercise in style and decoration. Where Ophuls buries Schnitzler's cynicism Michael John LaChiusa's 1994 musical variation is fiercely loyal to the spirit of the original.

It is a sour, rancid view of human relations, and not to the liking of all in the Cardiff audience. After five years of marriage a couple knows nothing of one another. A flicker of affection dies when the man craves not much more than a post-coital beer. Sex is portrayed less as a gateway to intimacy than as a tool for its evasion. The carapace of love is tradable, a means to professional advantage, an escape from tedium or just plain physical relief.

“Love” sings a character, rather inelegantly “is a terribly confusing ideal.” In the slipperiness of engagement another character sings “I'll be anything for you.” It is not a likeable view but then a few hours after curtain call I was obliged to watch the latest episode of “Skins”, another tale of faithless bed-hopping. That smacks of expensive, confected, cynical fakery. Schnitzler’s work at least has a sense of artistic integrity underpinning it.

The form of LaChiusa's musical is ideally suited as a RWCMD third year showpiece. Its ten scenes have no star parts but good roles for over half the college's third year cohort. I liked the Judy Holloway-ish echoes in Katie Elin-Salt’s voice and the light whoops at the end of her singing lines. The score avoids melodies so that catching the soprano high notes is technically demanding. In no order of merit the singing from Bethan-Mary James, Alice Tucker, Anya Murphy and Rosie Wyatt was a joy to hear.

The woman characters are variously sassy, sexy, seductive and self-seeking. It was inflammatory stuff in its day and the play was interpreted as an allegory of the spread of syphilis. The male parts are less flamboyant, with less undress, more brute action and less seduction. Director Caroline Leslie obviously took some relish in creating the seventies ' “Saturday Night Fever” parody with its hot pants and leg warmers. Scott Arthur both looked and sounded great in his outsized collar and loons.

Where “Hello Again” slips is in the quality of its language- the limpness of the title is an indicator. There is only one composer of musicals of stature who is his own equal as a lyricist. Even the great Leonard Bernstein only occasionally did his own lyrics and “Trouble in Tahiti” is strictly one for theatre geeks.

LaChiusa has a brilliant idea of spreading the action across the decades from 1900-2010. When Sondheim did “Assassins” he created an array of musical parodies. The score is certainly eclectic and a music critic could pick out the influences. I could not get much further than a piece of homage to Offenbach.

But the language, which might best have been an array of period parodies, merges towards a muddy middle. There was a faint hint of Hecht and MacArthur but faint it remained. “I am a moral bankrupt” is not a ringing motif for a song. The lyrics were mainly rhymeless but then on occasion the writer showed he could do them. “You set me up as your perfect muse/ Romeo, have I got news?” and later “Have you read the reviews? Hey, where are my shoes?” One scene is an unlikely encounter on the Titanic. The scene with a bedbound patient and a private nurse is the stuff of porn fantasy. But this is an example of the gulf that occasionally crops up between the two sides of the Atlantic as the lyrics were nominated for a Drama Desk Award.

As expected in this venue the ten-piece orchestra performed with a sound so clear that even the bass line sparkled. Tom Paris' set was a semi circle of five equally spaced doorways and high wide photographs that set each scene. In low blue light the stippled walls shone with the lustre of a Seurat.

Caroline Leslie has directed “Merrily We Roll Along”. That too is a tale of disillusion but with a heart; many a worse choice might be made for the 2011 musical.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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