Tarantino Live: Fox Force Five and the Tyranny of Evil Men at Riverside Studios – review

The European premiere runs until 13 August in Hammersmith

A scene from Tarantino Live with two women holding swords and circling each other, inspired by the film Kill Bill
A scene from Tarantino Live, © Julie Edwards

There’s a nagging question that hangs over this musical tribute to the films of Quentin Tarantino: who is it for? If you come at it as a Tarantino fan, as I do, it seems a strange kind of homage to one of the true iconoclasts of cinema. And if you come at it as a relative newcomer to his ouevre, I can only imagine you’d find it utterly baffling.

It opens with a scene from his most recent movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as a group of Charles Manson acolytes prepare for murder, which sets in train a sort of Tarantino megamix that jumps around from Reservoir Dogs to Kill Bill and much besides. The dialogue – most of it verbatim – is interspersed with songs from the soundtracks, including classics like “Stuck in the Middle With You”, “Bang Bang” and “Son of a Preacher Man”.

The narrative ostensibly pivots around a group of female assassins called the Fox Force Five, who are referenced in Pulp Fiction, but in truth, there’s little plot to hang a hat on. This is all about glorying in the black humour, gore (beware anyone who may be gunshot averse) and surprising humanity that make up the Tarantino back catalogue.

Some of the set pieces, such as the samurai sword fight from Kill Bill, or the chilling opening scene of Inglourious Basterds, are staged with aplomb on Matthew Steinbrenner’s faded cinema set (which includes stylish projections from Z Frame / Perry Breeze). But the cast inevitably feel like pale imitations of their on-screen equivalents. And the fact the films are all so distinct – it’s hard to draw a thread from Jackie Brown to Django Unchained, for example – makes it challenging for adaptor-director Anderson Davis to create any kind of cohesion.

The show’s saving grace is the music. The ensemble features West End alumni such as George Maguire, Mark Isherwood and Karen Mav alongside professional vocalists including Lifford David Shillingford, Cleo Caetano and Anton Stephens. They all sound superb, as does the band (which includes Alexander Zane on keys, who acts as a sort of emcee). This leads me to conclude that the production could and should have been a concert performance, allowing these talented singers to do what they do best.

But as it stands it’s a curate’s egg of a show that feels overstuffed with references that will fly over the heads of all but the most avid film buff (you’d have to have watched the entire canon relatively recently to get them all). The attempt to draw out themes – the show is broken into chapters, in true Tarantino style – feels tenuous, particularly a shonky sequence hooked around cars. If they had just let the music do the talking, this would be much more killer than filler.

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