Much as I try not to let official reviews colour my opinion, it's hard not to feel some trepidation the day after a press night that's yielded one-star reviews. Having now seen The Fantasticks
I'd say one star is a bit harsh, but it's still not a great show. Tom Jones (not that one) and Harvey Schmidt's musical is an off-Broadway legend but this production is a transfer of Amon Miyamoto's recent Japanese production. It's a gentle spin on fairytale romances as two neighbours (Clive Rowe and David Burt) want their children (Lorna Want and Luke Brady) to fall in love, so they build a wall between their houses and invent a feud between their families, in the knowledge that their kids will do whatever they're expressly forbidden to. There's a couple of hummable tunes but not many, and although the show's incredibly cheesy, at least it's knowingly so. The real trouble comes in the second act; the conceit is the same here as in Into the Woods
, of the happy ending taking place before the interval, and afterwards we see how this goes wrong. But where the Sondheim musical actually goes somewhere, this is a bit of a confusing mess, that dispenses with the silly fun which was the best thing about the first act. It also barely features Edward Petherbridge and Paul Hunter, whose turn as a couple of elderly actors is a scene-stealer in the first half.
Rumi Matsui's set design also places a small amount of audience members on the stage, which tonight included vanessaw
and me (because the tickets were cheaper, not because we think we iz stars innit.) It's a pretty popular idea ever since the Equus
revival but at least here I can see the point, as it helps evoke the idea that this is a group of travelling players putting on a simple show. Also in this onstage audience are a couple of plants who get "coerced" into joining the show. I don't mind this but since it quickly became apparent they weren't real audience members (people who'd paid for their seats would return to them after being made to wave a couple of sticks around for two seconds, unless they were really
hating the show) I got a bit irritated that the production tries to keep up the pretence throughout - to the extent that during the final bows Petherbridge asks one of them if he enjoyed it, purely for the benefit of the onstage audience who'd be the only people to hear it. Vanessa thought you could tell they were plants because their dance routine in act 2 was too polished; personally I think the fact that they were listed in the programme was a bit of a giveaway as well. I don't know, considering how much theatre I see that does
take risks with audience participation, it kinda annoys me when a production tries to fake spontaneity like this, and fakes it badly at that. If they'd just had a nod-and-a-wink moment of "OK, OK, they were cast members all along" I wouldn't mind so much.
Vanessa enjoyed much of the show, although she agreed the second half lost its way. Having a stage view meant I could see a lot of smiles in the audience in the first half, but notably more bored faces after the interval. Oh well, Carl Au, who plays the Mute, is very cute. He looks a bit like an Asian Will Young. Then again, Will Young looks a bit like an Asian Will Young.The Fantasticks
by Tom Jones (not that one) and Harvey Schmidt is booking until the 5th of September at the Duchess Theatre.