I have a passion for theatre. This blog is intended to be an occasional review of the shows I’ve seen. My views, like those of all critics, are subjective. I don’t expect anyone to agree with me—at least not all the time. But discussing some of these shows could make for some interesting conversation.
This weekend I went to see Wicked at London’s Apollo Victoria theatre.
I know there are die-hard fans of this show but I can’t count myself one of them. I wonder if our tolerance for some types of amusement is lessened when we reach a certain age? Do we lose our taste for froth at the same time as our waistlines start to thicken and our hair grows thin? The sort of enthusiasm one might have for, say, boy bands, is slowly eroded by a need for something of more substance. Life is too short of mental candyfloss.
That said, Wicked’s themes of acceptance, tolerance and not judging people by appearance are valuable lessons for all of us. But I wonder how carefully those lessons are being learned by some of the more rabid members of the audience.
A cursory glance at the Wicked facebook site reveals a degree of venom and antipathy that would embarrass most ten year olds. And the subject of their spleen? The choices made by some of the actors following the recent cast change. The show is too serious, they wail. Why couldn’t it have stayed the way it was?
Well, because it’s theatre, not a film. And it’s a musical, not a pantomime. If you want endless repetition, then don’t go to the theatre, because theatre is all about evolution. A bit like life, really.
A recent poster on the What’s On Stage forum asked why one of the new Wicked cast took the part if he was going to change the character. I can only assume the questioner is either very young or has no idea what acting is meant to be about. Would Hamlet continue to be performed if the cast were forced to play it exactly the same way every time?
Not that Wicked is in any danger of that sort of longevity. It’s a fun show, the music is generally pleasing, if a bit repetitive, and the performances range from good to excellent.
Rachel Tucker plays Elphaba, the green witch who becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. She plays the part as a wounded child and her interpretation of the role has a great deal of resonance. Of all the new cast in the Apollo Victoria, she seems to be one of the few to receive unqualified approval. With a deep understanding of the part, a strong acting ability, and a stunning voice, she’s likely to be around for a very long time.
I didn’t get to see Louise Dearman’s Glinda this weekend but her understudy, Sarah Earnshaw, did an excellent job as the petulant, spoiled ‘Good’ witch. She played the part mostly for laughs—which she got—but there was a lack of substance that slightly diminished the strength of the part. Glinda should be capable of gendering some sympathy but for me at least, that wasn’t there.
Lee Mead as Fiyero may have had the most difficult job of all: giving a shallow man substance and making him believable as a love interest for both of the leading ladies. The part isn’t particularly well written and it would be easy to play Fiyero as something of a cartoon character. This seems to have been the easy choice of many of Mead’s predecessors. However, in Mead’s hands, the character is vulnerable, engaging, and sexy as hell. Though I grant you a pair of well-fitted white trousers may have enhanced the latter of these impressions…
Mead’s voice has developed considerably since he was a contestant on Any Dream Will Do. It’s unfortunate that his one solo, Dancing Through Life, is a rather dull piece of fluff. He fares rather better with his duet with Rachel and it’s to his credit that his voice is as powerful as hers. Believe me, that’s saying something!
Despite the negativity on Facebook, Twitter, and other forums, the audience on Saturday seemed delighted with the show and the current cast.
Would I go back? Well, I found the story to be a bit banal and some of the music tedious, but when it does work, it works spectacularly. So yes, I would. In fact, I already have my ticket.
I’m still young enough to attribute the draw to a pair of white trousers…