Poison , at the Tricycle Theatre
David Kramer and Taliep Petersen, South African creators of Kat and the Kings, have again chosen Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre as the launch pad for their latest musical. Last time around, Kat soared from here to the stratospheric heights of a West End transfer and Olivier award. However, on this occasion, I've a feeling that their new offering Poison seems destined to stay more earthbound.
One of the main problems with this show seems to be Jenny McLeod's adaptation. This takes the Othello-inspired tale Kramer and Petersen first penned back in '91 and transfers its setting from Cape Town to the mean streets of Harlesden. In this attempt to make the show relevant to Londoners, McLeod seems to have robbed the score - with its African tribal undertones - of its context somewhat. The other main deficiency of Poison is traceable to songs themselves (ersatz Motown, syrupy ballads) which just aren't in the same toe-tapping league as those of Kat.
Tackling serious social issues like drug abuse and gangsterism, Poison revolves around the loveless marriage of Nita (Shelley Williams) and drug baron Michael (Mykal Rand), and features the attempts of his chief pusher, Poison (Guy Burgess) to stir up the latter's jealousy. This is in retribution for an earlier attack by his boss and his sidekick Lucky (Nigel Clauzel) which has left him short of a couple of fingers.
With the aid of Nita's discarded scarf, Poison leads Michael to believe that his wife is having an affair with crackhead songwriter Lyric (Koffi Missah) - though in truth he's in love with anti-drugs activist Pamela (Claudia Cadette). He tracks her down to her refuge at Pam's flat then strangles her, leaving Poison, and Pam's drug pusher brother Shaggy (Horace Oliver) to discover her lifeless body.
Director Kramer has tried to make the production feel contemporary, with Rent-style head mikes and costumes. But this just makes it seem passé, as does Mykal Rand's hackneyed choreography, which has the five-strong ensemble performing some sub-Jacko routines.
Yet occasionally good performances shine out from Bunny Christie's gloomy, slime-streaked concrete set. Mr Burgess in the title role makes scar-faced Poison sleazy and pitiful. Ms Cadette offers mellifluous vocals in the 'Home' medley, and Messrs Clauzel and and Oliver remind us of some of the old Kat magic in their comic duet 'Hollywood'.
But this fails to rescue an otherwise dreary evening. A disappointing successor to Kat, Poison leaves you wishing for the antidote of a stronger score and a superior storyline.