The Theatreguide.London Review
Donmar Warehouse Autumn 2010
This musical production is housed in an intimate auditorium where peeling, frescoed walls meet a floodlit stone floor, in the middle of which lovers entwine on a single bed in mutual celebration of their happiness – a word repeated so many times that you sense what lies ahead: no-one can be this happy, surely, and get away with it?
He is Giorgio, an army captain; she, Clara, a young married mother with whom he shares afternoon trysts while her husband is out.
When Giorgio is stationed abroad, the couple try to maintain their love through the medium of letters, which form a large part of the sung-narrative; a device which allows the actors to enter and cross through other scenes, as if in another time and place.
This works until Giorgio meets Fosca, the ill, ‘ugly’,and psychologically damaged sister of his superior (her nineteenth-century ‘hysteria’, the result of a broken heart).
Initially intrigued by her strangeness, Giorgio becomes repulsed by Fosca’s immediate and urgent passion for him – a passion that becomes frighteningly obsessive as she pursues him relentlessly, irrespective of his protests.
Passion began life as an Italian book and film: this is the re-worked version of the Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, the partnership responsible for Into the Woods.
It is a musical for grown-ups and lasts for 1 hour 45 minutes with no interval, sung-through for most of the time, but interjected by spoken narrative that (unusually for musical theatre) enhances rather than detracts.
It is true that there are no major stand-alone songs, and yet Fosca’s ‘Loving You (is not a choice)’ was still with me the following day.
Jamie Lloyd’s production is sumptuous and those responsible for sound (Terry Jardine and Nick Lidster) and lighting (Neil Austin) deserve high praise.
As does the cast: the all-male ensemble (including handsome Simon Bailey, recently Raoul in Phantom) work seamlessly as they simultaneously sing and bring properties (dining-table, chairs, bed) on and off stage.
But it is the three leads that make this a must-see production. Scarlett Strallen is luminous as golden Clara, singing with passion and conviction.
Elena Roger is too pretty to be ‘ugly’ Fosca but her tiny, childlike frame emits a voice of incredible force (as anyone who saw her Piaf will testify) whilst able to sing in whispered tones that provide the light and shade necessary for the character.
David Thaxton puts his heart, soul and fine baritone voice into beautiful Giorgio as his derision for Fosca metamorphoses into meaningful lessons on what it means to be truly loved by another.
The score is not always pretty but this might be the point. Discord reflects the double-edged-sword nature of passion, which can be life affirming and liberating (as Fosca observes: to die loved is to have lived) yet destructive and suffocating.
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