Italian quick-change artist Arturo Brachetti – the fastest in the world according to publicity material – began his West End residency at the Garrick Theatre this week, debuting his new show Change (26 October 2009, previews from 19 October).
In a display of virtuosic skill, Brachetti brings over 100 characters to the stage, from James Bond to the Queen via Johnny Rotten, in a series of astonishing quick change impressions. The show, which is directed by The Right Size's Sean Foley, also contains magic, illusions, comedy and anecdotes from Brachetti’s illustrious career.
Critics' reactions ranged from the superlative (“dazzling”, Dominic Maxwell) to the super-bored (“aaaaaargh!”, Quentin Letts). Praise predictably centred on Brachetti's chameleon costume abilities - “deeply felt as well as deeply skilful”. The broad range of cultural references, from Harry Potter to the films of Fellini, also shook fruits of praise from the critical trees. But detractors pointed out that Brachetti's skills might be better showcased as part of an all-encompassing variety show, as some found themselves ironically in need of a change by the end of the two hour running time.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (two stars) - “Two hours of pointless virtuosity is a daunting prospect at the best of times, but Brachetti, who now claims he is 52 years old, also cloaks his dazzling performance in a campaign to join his older self with his younger, impetuous genius and ends up paying tedious tribute to past masters … For London, director Sean Foley has devised a series of corny images - the guardsman, the Pearly King, the Queen – that are about as funny as a sequence on an old Stanley Baxter television comedy show, that is, not funny at all. But the Hollywood episode is some compensation, as Brachetti elides Nosferatu with Gene Kelly and pulls off the brilliant stunt of playing both Bogart and Bergman in Casablanca double profile … But the more he and his invisible team of wardrobe and technical staff strain for a narrative justification, the worse the show becomes. It’s at its best in a simple hat manipulating routine of twenty characters in two minutes. Variety is the spice of life, but variety artistes - Brachetti is neither a clown nor a comedian - are best seen in smaller doses.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (three stars) - “Basically, Brachetti just changes his clothes very quickly. In a mind-boggling sequence near the start, he celebrates his arrival in London by impersonating a King's Road punk, the Queen, a besuited bowler-hatted businessman, a pearly king and several others, all in the space of a minute or so, ducking out of sight for the briefest moment, only to appear in different clobber. He's also a dab hand at magic, producing snow storms from the palm of his hand, and great bunches of flowers from nowhere, and proves the best shadow puppeteer I've ever seen … Unfortunately, there is quite a lot of pretentiousness, too, for which the show's British director and writer Sean Foley ... must take some of the blame … There's a far more entertaining tribute to Hollywood in which Brachetti spectacularly transforms himself from King Kong to Carmen Miranda, and from Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz to the terrified victim in the shower scene of Psycho … A few cuts and a little fine tuning would give it four-star status.”
Dominic Maxwell in The Times (four stars) - “Change has its faults, but a lack of the wow factor isn’t one of them. There’s enough sensational stuff in here to carry you through 90 minutes, plus the interval, and leave you wanting more … Sean Foley’s dazzling production sometimes tries too hard to speak to its audience. We get heavily accented, clownish chat from Brachetti, interplay between 'old' Brachetti (grey wig, dressing gown) and 'young' Brachetti (purple jacket, micro-quiff) … At every moment, it feels as if Brachetti and his unseen assistants have thought, just how much good stuff can we get in here? Like the dinner jackets that his James Bond switches between; like the three-handed violin routine with its shades of Rod Hull and Emu. I’m not cinephile enough to get every reference in his Fellini sequence. But Foley provides plenty of visual clues. More importantly, it’s deeply felt as well as deeply skilful.”
Bruce Dessau in the Evening Standard (four stars) - “In his native Italy, Arturo Brachetti is a superstar, but he is unknown here … He is the world’s fastest quick change artist and when, in the opening minutes, he flips from guardsman to punk to Queen Elizabeth in a nanosecond barely out of view, one can see why … The narrative about Brachetti reflecting on his past, is a loose peg on which to hang tight sketches, some new, some ancient. Some so corny you wonder why director Sean Foley kept them in … After a start of tacky tourist postcard impressions (city gent, pearly queen), proceedings take shape inside a giant, Mondrian-influenced crate … There are a few easy jokes, though the thrill is in the velocity not the wit … With his cheeky grin and sing-song accent, Brachetti is impossible to dislike. This would make a terrific Christmas family outing. Utterly demanding, frequently seductive.”
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail (four stars) - “Arturo Brachetti is not just a quick change artist. He is the Emerson Fittipaldi of quick change artists, so speedy that you gawp in wonder. But once that’s said, what else remains? … By the end of this 100 minute, one man show, I could have cheerfully wrung his neck … He also ploughs remorselessly through a deeply unfunny routine showing how the rim of a hat can produce 20 characters. All this is done with his manic grin and his desperate joshing of the crowd (the opening night audience was slow to respond). On he presses, jumping behind sheets for a second or two only to emerge as yet another star of the silver screen (from Bogart to Spiderman via Harry Potter). Throughout which the chief question on one’s lips is: why? … If this had been a ten minute turn in a variety show, it would have been terrific. Children will probably like it, but even they might feel they have had enough after the first half. At which point you still have 40 long minutes to go. He even does a quick change during his curtain call. Aaaaaargh!”