Billed as a spectacular West End production of Seven Brides this was in fact disappointingly patchy. It started slowly with a unnecessarily lengthy and meaningless shifting collage of sepia prints of American pioneers and maps projected onto a gauzy curtain. Dear audience, in case it was not immediately obvious, we are going back through the mists of time to a time when time began, to a time when men were men and the women …back we slip to 19th century Oregon.
Why it was deemed necessary I am still not clear. Theatre audiences are well used to translating themselves into historical period and indeed into that timeless space that is the magic of theatre. Rather than draw us in the device served to distance us, to keep us in the dark and uncertain for too long, and this was to the detriment of the whole show since it set the tone for other imperfect transitions which dogged the production.
I suppose the concept was that we were to experience something both ancient and modern, a show that was as relevant to Plutarch as it is today, a show that mixed its creative genres to produce something that nods towards post-modernity – layered, contradictory, fragmented but at the same time offers us something timelessly entertaining and wise about human relationships. If only.
To be fair, the layers of gauze curtain did allow for a notional depth as the characters made the necessary transitions from rough woodsman’s cottage high up in the inhospitable mountains away from any civilising influence, to the lively throng of community life lived large in the heart of the town below. And it offered its own solution to the problem of the avalanche scene, as projections of snow falling deeper and deeper separated the outraged townsfolk from the rough-cut woodsmen and their trophies.
It also, if we were to follow the metaphor through, might have prompted the impression that the journey between the two realities was mythic, but this was undercut by the pantomime-cartoonery of too many of the transitions, giving the impression that this was a production that had insufficient confidence in its direction.
The energy of the production was similarly discontinuous. It took too long for the show to gather its momentum, and when it did the relief in the auditorium was palpable. But it was a momentum that too often flagged when Steven Houghton playing Adam had centre-stage. His accent was disconcertingly erratic, but added to that the sound quality meant that he kept fading when he needed his top notes to ring out loud and true.
Fortunately Susan McFadden (Milly) was sufficiently strong to lift the production from the doldrums. She has a powerful voice and a credible sweetness of purpose. If her relationship with the brothers was sometimes perilously close to that of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves well that was only amplified by the production values. For their part the brothers (and the suitors) brought some fine athletic dancing to the stage pumping up the energy levels and rescuing the evening. Their impressive energy, vigour and timing are a credit to Chris Hocking’s choreography, it is just a shame that his direction lacked similar conviction.
- Claire Steele