The quality of the triple-threat young performers now being pumped out of the United Kingdon’s drama schools and performing arts courses just seems to get better and better.
As well as teaching them to dance, sing, and act with conviction, I wonder if there’s a lecture on what to do if you ever get stuck in a show which is not quite of the first order?
If there is, I can only presume they’ve been passing round the lecture notes in the dressing rooms of The Charing Cross Theatre as its current incumbent, Grim – A New Musical, fulfils the criteria – and how!
Not out-and-out gothic enough to be a challenger to Phantom – and with production values which might charitably be described as basic – and not camply tasteless enough to be a second Young Frankenstein, Grim sets out to answer one of those questions that noone’s ever actually asked,
‘Which is stronger? Love? Or Death?’
A question which might at first glance seem implausible but, sadly, nowhere near as implausible as the plot of Grim, which goes something like this…
‘Death’ takes human form in the shape of a young woman, Grim (nicely sung, but played rather woodenly, by Roseanna Christoforou) and for a reason which is never fully explained, decides to become a schoolgirl, however one who – by an astonishingly bad bit of planning on Death’s part – kills anyone she touches.
For a reason again never fully explained, the school has a hunk with whom all the girls are in love, Cupid (well sung and acted by the understudy in the performance I saw, Graham Hope) who may, or may not be the Roman god of love in human form… again not fully explained.
Grim and Cupid eventually fall in love and with the help of Grim’s only friend, Amelia (played and looking like a young Helen Lederer on speed by the wonderful Georgi Mottram) end up behind a backlit gauze locking lips before a finale that’s basically aPhanton of the Opera ripoff.
There’s a subplot about school friendship, and another which draws rather too heavily on the Three Little Maids from The Mikado, but essentially it’s a mash-up of Twilight and Daisy Pulls It Off.
The music’s recorded, which I’m not a fan of, but nice enough in a Danny Elfman/Tchaikovsky kind of way, if rather four-square, but has a tendency to sound more like the backing track to a Peugeot commercial than something you’d leave the theatre whistling.
As I’ve already intimated, the book leaves an awful lot to be desired – Whose Story is it? What do they want? What’s stopping them from getting it? For starters, who could possibly compete as an antagonist with the angel of Death? – but the whole show is hobbled, nay brought to its knees, by some of the most fantastically inept lyric setting I think I’ve ever heard in the theatre.
It’s annoying to hear the odd mis-stressed word, but this show has them by the bucketload. I jotted a few down…CAPITALS indicate the syllable stressed.
‘She made the day brigh-TER’
(someone was)…’a rich ar-TIST’
‘I’ll make you hap-PEY’
‘We’ll see the down-FALL of the king-DOM’
‘Love and retain relation-SHIPS’
But that’s not all. The rhymes are shocking. For example rhyming the three words PASS, LAST, and MASK.
Now, you might argue that this doesn’t matter, and in truth there are styles of modern music where it wouldn’t. However, the shows lushly romantic score scans, rhymes, and is metrically perfect. The lyrics are not, and come across as incompetent, no matter how bravely this talented cast try to make them work.
If the lyrics came first Joseph Alexander’s setting’s are inept, in which case Fiona O’Malley should have re-written her lyrics to fit his music.
If the music came first, Fiona O’Malley – who is also co-producing…- should have done a much better job.
Whichever way it was, I’m astonished that this show got to the stage in the shape it’s in.
To end on a positive for what has otherwise been the sort of review I don’t enjoy giving, the choreography is actually very good – well done Adam Jay-Price and Sam Lathwood – and Adam Wollerton’s fluid direction utilises not only the whole of the stage, but also a good part of the auditorium.
All in all, not a show likely to be transferring to a larger theatre, I fear…