Saturday, 5 April 2014

the a-z of mrs p

On Saturday 22nd March, in the evening, we all went to the Southwark Playhouse, along with Margaret and Hei Mun (who had got it together) to see The A-Z of Mrs P, a modern musical about the self-described inventor of the A to Z of London (in fact this production was its premiere, though we weren't there on the first night).

The staging was between two banks of audience seats facing each other, for no apparent reason, which meant that for a lot of the time actors were facing away from you wherever you were sitting.

I thought it was okay, and probably liked it least of our group. Bethan I think would have bought the CD on the way out if there had been anyone at the desk. Probably partly I was influenced by knowing that the autobiographies and the recent biography based largely uncritically on those autobiographies (which I read, and had my doubts) on which the story is based are a very one-sided, if not largely fictional, version of events (Phyllis Pearsall's brother in particular has a very detailed website full of rebuttal). To be fair, the script does make allusions to this. Also I was expecting it to be lighter than it was; I'm sure it was sold as that, but there was a large emphasis on the family drama, especially the father-daughter relationship. But mainly I just didn't like the music very much; they were unremarkable songs, neither catchy in music or lyrics, very much in the common style of modern musical songs. The kind of songs which if you heard them on the radio you'd know they were from a modern musical when you heard them, except you wouldn't hear them on the radio (except on a specialist musical theatre songs show) because they're not good enough to stand up as songs in their own right (they seem to sacrifice that to moving the plot along in the song, so they feel very linear; I guess it takes more skill to do that without the sacrifice). Why should so many modern musical songs sound like that, like they're a genre of their own? Say what you like about Rice/Lloyd-Webber (I'll give you a minute), they wrote some proper songs. Or Randy Newman's songs for cartoons, standalone but plot/character development in filmic context.

Still, everyone else enjoyed it; I was worried the younger generation might have been bored, but it wasn't the case (of course even it that were the case it wouldn't be admitted, in case it might reduce the likelihood of further late nights out at grown-up theatre, which is fair enough). Mrs P is played by Isy Suttie, who I think is the only well-known cast member (though others did look familiar, though could be types) - most familiar as comedian with comic songs, biog indicates drama training.

(Also in the audience we spotted Haydn Gwynne. Made a pair of niche actor spots when as the three of us left Zizzi's the following Friday we saw Clive Russell.)

Some reviews from the first couple of pages of results (several lesser- or never-linked sites here). The Southwark Playhouse page. Telegraph (middling to poor, commenters think worse). Evening Standard. Guardian (third out of three that says something like 'loses its way'. 'The chief pleasure lies in the music and lyrics of Gwyneth Herbert who claims never to have seen a staged musical before being commissioned to write this one.' - obviously went on a crash course and copied what she saw, I'd say). That Guardian review also links to this article by Isy Suttie on playing the part. What's On Stage (reviews lining up with me so far, mostly without taking issue with the truth of the story). The Arts Desk. The Stage. The Public Reviews. British Theatre Guide. Musical Theatre Review. Rage Off Stage blog (new to me, second 'loses its way' in a row, very unimpressed, but their blog title and biog sets up the reader to expect that they're going to be criticising everything they blog about, I don't know if that's the case). Times (before it fades behind the paywall you can see it's getting 4 out of 5 stars, which makes it the best reputable review so far listed I think). Total Tat blog. West End Frame blog. Helen Babbs blog (review for Londonist). Classical Source. The Upcoming online magazine (nasty ad-filled design. Girl Outside blog. Youth Music Theatre (most of these last run, apart from Times, are new to me). Comparisons with Sondheim were regular, so perhaps he's to blame for what I call the 'modern musical style'?