Stephen Russell

Queen of the Mist

Reviewer's Rating

Pint Of Wine Theatre Company have pulled off that all too rare occurrence. Buoyed up by a sell-out run, and on a raft of excellent reviews for Queen of the Mist at Brockley’s Jack Studio Theatre back in April, they’ve transferred a show into town, and in doing so have opened it up for a larger space, with a much larger set, and with a new, traverse, staging.

So, does it deliver? Well, to a very large extent, yes, with one caveat that I’ll come to later, which actually is a note for the composer Michael John LaChiusa and not this excellent production.

The cast remains the same and if anything sound even better than before, possibly as a result of having, in the intervening four months, recorded the original London cast recording of the show (and very nicely packaged it is too).

Sound designer Adrian Jeakins makes a fine job of artfully filling the space with the voices available on Tara Usher’s multi-purpose new set, which utilises The Charing Cross’s slips to give additional performance room for both the cast and the band under the hand of Musical Director Connor Fogel.

Look out my original review for an account of Trudi, Will, Emily, Emma, Tom, Conor, and Andrew. They’re all still excellent.

For those not lucky enough to see the show in April, it concerns the life of widowed schoolteacher Anna Edson Taylor who, on October 24th 1901 – her 63rd birthday – became the first person ever to go over Niagra Falls, in a barrel of her own design, and survive. She had hoped to win fame and fortune, but sadly both eluded her and she died, and was buried, a pauper. And as with the production back in April, I still had a lump in my throat as she meets a young soldier in her declining years. I still had a tear in my eye as I learned of the circumstances of her death.

So, what of that caveat?

Well, I believe it comes from the problem of having the same person, Michael John LaChiusa, be responsible for book, music, and lyrics. Although I think this is by far his finest work, he has set up for himself an inherent contradiction that I suspect a better bookwriter would have been able to overcome more dextrously.

We are told that when she set out on the lecture circuit in the hope of reaping the rewards of her big deed, she couldn’t pull in the necessary audiences as she was so boringly monotonous to listen to.

Here’s the rub. If you have a character who you claim in the show is apparently so boring and monotonous that she puts off the audiences she’s speaking to, how do you then make her sufficiently interesting that the audience in the theatre believes that it’s the same character? And more importantly, how do account for the difference?

When Mrs Taylor was removed from the barrel after her ordeal, she did apparently receive a head wound which might just have accounted for the change, but this is never explored. Instead, LaChiusa’s Anna Edson Taylor is pretty much the same throughout, which is a shame. In order to show madness on stage, you need to have seen the character sane first.

That said, this is such a fine production that you’ll be swept along with the flow. Let the magnificent score wash over you, as it did Anna Edson Taylor inside her barrel in 1901.