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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Gone With The Wind
New London Theatre       Spring 2008

There is much to like in this musical adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's pop classic, but it is not a success. I suspect that it will limp its way through perhaps a year's run before closing with some minimal dignity intact [It actually closed after 2 months].

Which is a shame, because there is nothing wrong here that some good songs, some inventive musical staging and some theatrical energy couldn't cure.

Foremost among the attractions are the two central performances. Jill Paice is not only lovely in the mould of the young Vivien Leigh, but she perfectly captures Scarlett's mix of gamin sexiness, fiddle-dee-dee irresponsibility, blind selfishness and granite core.

Darius Danesh is an ideal Rhett - manly, sexy, believably capable of both caddishness and chivalry, and able to take the character on an emotional journey that is even more complex than Scarlett's.

Both also sing beautifully and effectively, though they're not given much to work with.

(Edward Baker-Duly makes Ashley attractive and sympathetic even as the character is revealed as a prig and a wimp, and Madeleine Worrall keeps Melanie from becoming insufferably wet, which is all you can ask. Nobody else in the large cast registers.)

Adapter-director Trevor Nunn (working from a script, music and lyrics by American public health educator Margaret Martin - don't ask) ploughs his way through the epic story by employing a narrative technique hei ntroduced nearly three decades ago in Nicholas Nickleby (Who better to plagiarise from than yourself?).

The entire cast, including the principals, take turns delivering a line or two of background, description or story-telling, bridging the jumps in time and space.

He hasn't escaped the understandable impulse to be comprehensive, though, and with all his short-cuts, the show still runs close to three and a half hours (or about the length of the 1939 movie).

It would be very difficult for even a director of Nunn's talent to sustain interest and energy that long.

But the central failing - the thing that ultimately scuttles this show is that the songs are simply no good.

Margaret Martin's melodies are forgettable even as you are listening to them, and her lyrics are prosaic and pedestrian, so that somewhere approaching the third hour you're likely to find yourself tuning out, not looking forward to each song because you don't have much hope of its being interesting.

Yes, there is a title song, which is particularly weak. Melanie gets a soppy deathbed number, and there's an attempt to generate some artificial excitement with a faux spiritual for the slaves.

Probably the silliest moment comes when the maid Prissy suddenly gets a consciousness-raising feminist number before reverting to her 'I don't know nothin bout birthin no babies' persona as if it hadn't happened.

What makes a musical work? Great songs, certainly, which we don't have here. Exciting choreography? David Bolger is credited as 'movement director' but, a couple of brief ball scenes aside, his main task is to get people on and off the stage as efficiently as possible.

Some people would even settle for spectacular staging - was there anything memorable about Miss Saigon other than the helicopter? - but designer John Napier keeps things on an almost bare stage. There's no sense of Tara's iconic majesty, and the burning of Atlanta is a damp squib.

This is one of those rare musicals in which the dramatic bridges between songs are the strongest parts, and what is best about the show - the two central performances and Trevor Nunn's narrative style - might well have shone even brighter in a non-musical.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Gone With The Wind - New London Theatre 2008