I came to this production with no preconceptions at all, as I’d never seen it before, and had never heard the score (apart from Love Changes Everything, of course). And I am delighted to report that the Menier is back on track with a complete winner. It’s a terrific little show, telling an interesting grown-up story with sensitivity and maturity. Trevor Nunn continues to be one of my all-time heroes.
The cast are excellent; I have read comments that Michael Arden as Alex is straining to get the vocals but I don’t agree. His singing comes across as pure and youthful – which he appears to be throughout the show, always younger than the more experienced Rose and pure enough not to take advantage of young Jenny when she throws herself at him. And when he powerfully delivers the big version of Love Changes Everything the contrast with his otherwise quiet performance is very effective.
Katherine Kingsley sings beautifully, looks great, and for me was totally convincing as the needy Rose. Dave Willetts as George was the epitome of earthly pleasures and you wouldn’t trust him with a bargepole at first; but as he gets older, he conveyed to me his growing frailty with conviction and integrity. Super.
It’s charmingly and effectively staged, and the small band gives the show sufficiently good musical support for a small theatre. It’s a really lovely score; and although nothing is as memorable as Love Changes Everything, there are some great tunes and singing the lines never feels artificial.
It is, however, by no means perfect. Alex starts the show looking nostalgically through his old photos, saying that if he had never gone to the theatre none of this would have happened. That implies regret – but I saw nothing in Alex’s journey (yes I used the “J” word) that would justify long time regret at his life. He gets the girl often enough, and it appears to end “happily ever after” for him. So I don’t get that. The prologue seems to serve no useful purpose other than to introduce us to the idea of the overhead projector that plots the course of the show.
Also – schoolboy error – the map of Malaya and surrounding countries that’s projected onto the screen when Alex is in the army clearly shows the town that would have in those days been called Saigon, but here named Ho Chi Minh City. I think it changed name in the 1970s sometime? Hmm. Back to the drawing board with that one I think.
I just love sitting in the front row of the Menier. You’re so up close and personal with the performance, it’s as though you are another member of the cast. And the nice young lady at the box office said “Welcome back” when I collected our tickets. I felt valued as a customer. I’ll definitely come back, don’t you worry about that. Mind you, on reflection I think I might have been a trifle too kind about Paradise Found…