Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Theatre review: Ghost

Every year I like to take advantage of at least one show on the discounted ticket promotion Get Into London Theatre. This year was rather slim pickings for me, with shows I either didn't fancy or had already seen, so I settled on one of last year's big new musicals which I'd skipped at the time. Ghost has just had a cast change, its original leads having gone to the upcoming Broadway transfer, so the very buff Mark Evans plays Sam Wheat (so named because he's well-bred. No? Please yourself) and Siobhan Dillon his girlfriend Molly, while Sharon D Clarke returns to play phoney psychic Oda Mae Brown after taking a break from the role. With its huge fanbase, the movie Ghost seems like a pretty obvious commercial choice to give the big-budget musical treatment. Though the fact that Matthew Warchus' production wears its budget on its sleeve is no surprise, given the fact that the romance is surely the draw for most of the aforementioned fanbase I didn't expect the show to be quite so in-your-face. Its personality is more that of the brash Oda-Mae than its pottery-fetishising central couple, and accordingly Clarke gets many of the biggest moments, and the biggest cheers.

As far as the songs go, all I can really say is that they're loud - it's not quite like they're an afterthought, but in the first act especially there were sometimes such long gaps between songs that I'd forgotten it was a musical by the time the music struck up again. And instead of ignoring the elephant in the room, "Unchained Melody" actually crops up several times (so if you come out humming anything, it'll probably be that.) Instead, this is all about the spectacle, with Rob Howell's set made up of large moving walls, almost always covered with Jon Driscoll's bright, busy projections. At times the latter make it feel like the production doesn't trust the actors to create the right atmosphere - notably in the famous pottery-wheel scene, I reckon the audience can be trusted to know it's a big romantic moment without the stage flooded with photos of the couple in happier times.

For all its brashness and cynicism, Ghost kind of won me over though, albeit not straight away - after the ludicrously bombastic opening there's one of the most heavy-handed Basil Exposition scenes I've ever seen, as the couple and their best friend (Andrew Langtree, also pretty buff, but hairier-chested so you can tell he's a baddie) explain to each other who they all are, what they do for a living and how they first met. But if the onslaught of music, noise and special effects isn't creating an evening of memorable charm, it does provide entertainment. It was probably wise of me to wait for the second cast, as his predecessor Richard Fleeshman's apparent charms are lost on me, but Evans' hotness was a definite bonus (here, let's have another photo of him, but with a beard) and I very much enjoyed seeing his pecs try to break free of his shirt for three hours. (His stupidly baggy trousers, not so sexy; presumably hiding his flying belt, it looks more like it's hiding a nappy.) But even someone as shallow as me can't be kept going through a whole show by looks alone, so there must have been something else worth watching. (It wasn't the female lead - I don't know if Dillon's to blame or more likely the writing, but Molly's a personality vacuum.) I guess something about the juggernaut wore me down, and though I don't know if I can recommend paying full whack for it - even the discounted price was more than I usually like to pay - I did enjoy myself. (I will say though: I know I have a tendency not to be moved by things that bring audiences to tears, especially when romance is involved, but I can usually tell why other people are crying. Here the floods of running mascara on the way out were a mystery to me, other than because some people go out with every intention of having a good cry, come what may. Taken on its own merits this is a show that assaults the senses, not the emotions. Speaking of which, I could really have done without lighting designer Hugh Vanstone's tendency to shine floodlights into the audience's eyes.)

Ghost by Bruce Joel Rubin, Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart From Off Of Eurythmics is booking until the 13th of October at the Piccadilly Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes including interval.

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