The Bodyguard – Edinburgh Playhouse

Screenplay by Lawrence Kasden

Book by Alexander Dinelaris

Directred by Thea Sharrock

Basing its structure on the 1992 film, Alexander Dinelaris’s screenplay makes a decent attempt in capturing the original Bodyguard, but sadly refrains from expanding upon it. Lawrence Kasden’s cinematic release told the developing love story between singer Rachel Marron and her bodyguard Frank Farmer.

The Bodyguard contains numerous Whitney Houston classics. Marron, stubborn to the interference Farmer poses, attempts to live her life. Together with her envious but vastly more talented sister, she stays with her young song. With her PR team desperate for an Oscar to boost her career, Farmer and Marron begin to realise that the most important things aren’t the fame or fortune.

Beginning with a literal bang, one may notice that our first impressions of The Bodyguard are that this might just be something extraordinary. To use the term spectacle is too simplistic, Tim Hatley’s set design is of incredible construction. It frames the production marvellously, honing our focus into the correct areas. Expanding for us to take in the bigger picture. If only there had been this much dedication in the adaption of the script or direction.

Returning is Alexandra Burke, who receives an eruption of applause from a ravenous crowd. First portraying the character of Rachel Marron back in 2012, Burke takes to the character well-enough, seeking to show off a younger, less experienced diva than Whitney’s version. It’s always promising to hear a performer take the role and make it their own, but the first act highlights that Burke is first and foremost a singer before a stage performer. Her control for standout numbers, I Will Always Love You and Jesus Loves Me are the exceptions where she finds a balance between the two.

Vocally, she is there. There is no question to her capabilities to hold a tune, but her characterisation is lacking. Chiefly this is down to the script, which seems to have severe issues with Rachel’s identity. She flips in the span of a single scene from staunch, headstrong mother into a whimpering lovestruck teenager. The whiplash from such a turnaround does Burke no favours. Attempting to save Rachel in the second half, Burke does well to inject some humour, but it’s not enough.

We seem to be watching the wrong sister for the majority of the production, for as evidently talented as Burke is – she is simply outshone by Micha Richardson’s envious sister Nicki Marron. Her emotive voice far surpasses anything we have seen this evening. In reality, her connection with the bodyguard himself Benoit Marechal is superior to that of Burke. Marechal, who is as charismatic as possible turns in an impressive Farmer.

Issues with narrative show more in the second half, but by these are largely overlooked by the finale, which, truth be told, is rather phenomenal. It’s what most of the audience has been waiting for. Burke belting out the notable tracks of the production, with some surprise vocals from the ensemble and antagonist Phil Atkinson who we discover is vastly underused.

You know you have an issue when your antagonist receives laughter upon arrival. Especially, given the nature of the character. We’re informed that this ex-military man could have a potential history of sexual violence, assault and is a masterful tactician. The stage version toys with a Travis Bickle inspiration for their antagonist. Atkinson is capable of the role, he has the manner to be intimidating, but the stage direction places him more as eye-candy than a genuine threat. One really has to think if the phrase “sexual assault” should follow your audience’s wolf-whistles.

What’s hugely frustrating about The Bodyguard is that this has the potential for a five star, stellar production. The components are in place, but they devastatingly underutilise the talents they have. This is the genre of production which resurrects a cinematic counterpart but fails to build upon it.

The Bodyguard has some of the finest set design and backing orchestral touring the country, but it has little sense of identity. Unsure if it wants to be a large-scale jukebox musical or serious drama. It deserves it’s standing ovations as much as it deserves its criticism.

Runs until July 20th, tickets avialable from The Plahouse:

Dr. Moreau Explains – Assembly Roxy

Original Novel by H.G. Wells

Adapted by Michael Daviot

Directed by Emily Ingram

For the many that are familiar with the monstrous creations found within H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau then Dr Moreau ExplainsMichael Daviot’s part-adaptation of the 1896 novel, will not disappoint. Dr Moreau, an expert vivisectionist, finds himself answering the questions of biologist Edie Prendick. In a twist from the source, the action does not take place during the book, instead we see beyond the covers. Building upon the notion of Prendick’s account of the brutality she (in a gender-swapped role) bore witness too, and seeking answers from Dr Moreau via video link. As Moreau is trapped by the very Beast Folk he creates, he offers a final explanation of his deeds and a ‘lesson’ to Prendick.

Fresh off the coattails of a rather spiffing run as Sherlock Holmes, Twisted Thistle are continuing a trend involved in much of Daviot’s career. He refuses to allow the pages of a story to go untouched, seeking a way to reignite, revitalise and re-imagine its contents. His previous works contain an intense adoration for Gothic horror, narrative, and elements of sci-fi or fantasy and this all works in tremendous favour for Dr Moreau Explains, especially Daviot’s uncanny ability to take a preexisting tale and somehow spin it into an entirely distinct form.

Well’s original novel is far from a perfectly pleasant experience, though what else would you expect? A sublime piece of early science-fiction, it is one of the first instances of ‘uplifting’ – drawing animal companions onto the same evolutionary lineage as humans. It deals with human identity, pain, scientific suffering and moral responsibilities. Dr Moreau Explains, knowing full well to respect the source material, remains unchanged. That said, Daviot’s clever scripting includes the odd choice phrase or propaganda satire which hints at the passing time since the novel’s first publication.

Aesthetically Dr Moreau Explains is able to pull the story into a contemporary setting however its hints at a steampunk aesthetic are only present in the cogs and windings of the buffering ‘live broadcast’. Roddy Simpson’s design for the video operation is remarkable in terms of quality for the scale and time to accomplish.

Daviot’s performance, under Emily Ingram’s direction, is the highlight of the production. The sheer ferocity in delivery showcases an entire spectrum of emotion that thunders out into the audience. That is not to say we do not have the stillness of emotional weight. One smarter aspect of the ‘live video’ aesthetic is that it ingeniously sets up some of the quieter moments. Frozen frames and buffering video means the audience shift their entire focus to Daviot – and it is here where he capitalises on the break in momentum, holding us on his every word.

Similarly to Moreau’s infamous ‘Puma-Woman’, this production has elements requiring completion. The components are there, some deftly incorporated, others require a tight pull on the stitching. The concept is sound, but it needs more fleshy sinew. Daviot and Ingram are compelling in their performance, but there is less of an association between Ingram and Daviot’s characters as we would hope for. With the use of video footage, Ingram is unable to stand against the torrent of Dr Moreau’s confessions. While she has tremendous expression, delivery, and her epilogue closing out the piece is fitting for the original novel; there’s also a restriction in what emotions can be on the show. She cannot interrupt Moreau, nor can she directly engage. While it makes for a commanding stage presence for Daviot, it regrettably means Ingram plays second-fiddle.

In its closing moments, the realisation of what Dr Moreau Explains has the potential to evolve into is inspiring. The regenerative powers Twisted Thistle are capable of, inherently down to the talents of Daviot, to showcase the wealth of literature for new audiences.

Review originally published for Wee Review:

Amélie The Musical – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Book: Craig Lucas

Music: Danie Messé

Lyrics: Nathan Tysen & Daniel Messé

The awkward daughter of a neurotic and a germophobe (we’ve all been there), Amélie is as socially fragile as she is dedicated to helping others. In the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death, Amélie has a revelation – to help flicker the light of the world through minuscule, almost invisible acts of kindness which spiral into deliciously absurd results. Now, if only she could find a way to have that adventure in her own life.

Audrey Tautou’s performance in the cinematic release acquired universal praise. Audrey Brisson’s Améliehas the base characteristics, but she has an edge, a bite to her. In part, this is mostly due to the music elements, Brisson’s voice an intensely emotive one. As a recluse, we adore her, want to keep her safe, but know her determination and creativity will keep her out of (too much) trouble.

For as little time as Danny Mac and Brisson spend on stage together, they generate a remarkable amount of chemistry. Nico, a character he brings life to when able, is woefully underutilised given Mac’s impressive vocals and quaint charm.

This is how you adapt a cinematic masterpiece. This is how you encourage a fresh basis for fans, lovers and admirers of the theatre. Sculpting a sublime stroll through the whimsical world of Amélie the Musical, Craig Lucas’ book carefully adapts Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 award-winning French movie. Expanding the surrealist imagery, modern fairy-tale narrative and mise-en-scène of a timeless France for the theatre. It’s a rare, triumphant feat in knowing which parts of the film could be grander onstage and which components to leave behind.

Following from the original Broadway outing, there was an injection of ‘Frenchness’ by director Fentiman in the composition of the production. For the film, there’s a dusty cloud of bon-bon sweetness to its French identity. The stage version captures the je ne sais quoi, striking a timeless Gallic style of folk music in Daniel Messe’s score. There’s a sublime use of rough beats, which from the outset pump blood around the body, letting us know that the score and lyrics for Amélie maybe its mightiest asset.

It isn’t all champagne and caviar, through all the madness, the surrealist nature of Amélie does take the time to breathe, both to success and its only let-down. We find tender moments of delight, touching scenes which round off characters, provide some space to gather ourselves. The closing act feels drawn out, by around ten minutes. The story is spun, our character’s content. Finally, Amelie is to have her deserving moment, but it doesn’t arrive when it ought. We have our emotions of tenter hooks, only to wait a little longer.

Amélie the Musical is a contemporary fairy-tale, the genre in which we find aspects of imagination, the fantastic and enchantment through our characters absurdist disconnection with reality. We have malevolent figs, goldish companions and a charmingly crafted young Amélie puppet. A garden gnome, travelling the world and kind enough to send postcards. They all represent something, insecurities and failure to move on through grief. Madeleine Girling’s design takes note of Jeunet and Laurant’s 2001 aesthetic, magnifying it for the stage. From the moment we enter the theatre, the cast-iron greens peer out from the thick nicotine-tinted lighting. It’s a visual splendour of theatre.

It is these moments, these heightened fantastical scenes which make Amélie a treasure for the musical theatre collection. Its illusionary lighting, coy fairy-tale charm and folk-style composition set it apart from the rag-tag of Jukebox and ever replaying musicals. So, take advice from Amélie, leave the confines of boredom, dive into imagination and treat yourself to something magical.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:

Production Touring:

Image contribution: Pamela Reith