Thursday, 12 May 2016

Review Devilish

Lyrics and Book Chris Burgess
Music BB Cooper
A Star Is Forlorn

So it's down south to the Landor Theatre to see a new musical Devilish, apparently originally inspired by HG Wells's novel The Wonderful Visit, itself supposedly inspired by a remark of art critic John Ruskin (ah, a critic, so, it must have been an extremely intelligent remark! ;)).

More recently, the Wells novel was also the source for a 1974 French movie  with a fallen star angel looking like a cross between a young James Fox and David Bowie.

Alex Green is altogether more cherubic as the angel (the heavenly rather than the theatrical kind) with a dream, not for angelic civil rights but to become a man.

Once he hits his stride, he has the open-eyed, perfect teeth look which has the potential to remain shiny and boyish while hiding a  cankered soul. Despite some erratic vocals, particularly in the first act, his role keeps this scattergun musical focussed on the angelic, which is its true subject rather than the devilish.

There's an amusing vibrant set from  David Shields reflecting the cartoon-like Hogarthian angel's progress and director Marc Urquhart achieves variety of pace despite a pedestrian book.  

As love interest and media mogul PA (her rebellion possessing shades of  The Truman Show's "everyone's pretending Truman" Sylvia), Victoria Hope as Ruth has a more thankless task in her "straight man" role. But she sings well, despite a backstory to explain her character which makes her little more than a cipher.

The devil in the mix is visually a Simon Cowell/David O'Sullivan type, Nick Brimstone (geddit?!). This feels like a different musical, a traditional talent show exploitation tale with a Faustian overlay. Gareth James has more to grasp at than Hope as the avaricious impressario who turns out predictably to draw on hellish (with a hint of the City) connections rather than talent to take over showbusiness.

Yet, despite a strong performance, it struck us this supernatural element felt tacked on and just wasn't needed. There's a strong enough story with the angel having to cope with the cut-throat modern world where Paradise has been well and truly lost.

There is strong support from Maddie (Katie-Ann Dolling) with  A  Star Is Born mixed with a Brigitte Bardot animal sanctuary subplot (yes, it's a very busy musical!), bringing a touch of pathos as the wannabe who wises up. George Longworth is spot on as her plastic surgeon knitting pattern-type love interest with a precise performance, both musically and dramatically.

The score seems serviceable enough, the lyrics less so, but it's the performances of the whole cast and  choreography from Adam Scown which give the show its energy.

John Milton kept the biblical story with  a rebel fallen angel reflecting the ambiguity of the rulers and the ruled at the centre of his suspenseful story. In  the publicity and programme, this musical wears its sources on its sleeve (although Milton does not figure) and indulges in a plethora of named and unnamed TV, film, musical and literary references in performance.

Somewhere amidst the derivative scenes, there's a good story of an angel who falls to earth, tastes the dark side and loses rather than gains his wings. And just occasionally the satire does hit home. But as it is, it's only just an amber light for the strenuous efforts of the cast to drag Devilish from the depths.

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