Friday, 29 July 2016

Review Exposure The Musical

Exposure The Musical
Book, Music and Lyrics by Mike Dyer 

Out Of Focus

For a musical about a photographer, Exposure  is curiously uninterested in photography. There's a hint of something here and there but it's never - please pardon the old-style film pun - fully developed.

The strapline is "Life Through The Lens" and we're first presented to embryo photographer Jimmy when  he's -well - an an ultrasound image. A projected photo of  the baby in the womb, a photographic process not entirely without risk and pain itself, towers over the stage.

Nevertheless the backers of this new musical have taken the risk and may still feel the pain because this kind of insight and coherence is never followed through in Exposure.

The set design by Timothy Bird clicks open like a camera shutter onto an African landscape. It's a clever enough concept but gets entirely lost in the random scenes and grab bag of styles, stories and clichés which follow.

Jimmy's photojournalist Dad (Kurt Kansley) is in a drought-stricken African country where an aid worker (Jahrel Thomas) pleads with him to take photos to tell the world of a starving people's plight with hoardes crowded into refugee camps.

But the photographer crosses the line when he takes a photo of a rainmaking ritual conducted by a local shaman who along with his tribe believes a photo steals the subject's soul. Cue for a song maybe? A bit of simple research on the internet reveals real experiences of photographers  and ruminations of others on soul stealing  

But the songs have only the frailest connection to photography and any development of the story. We're always willing to give new writing latitude. But a musical progressing from Africa to a projection of a foetus in a womb with the buff topless Jimmy (David Albury)  emerging singing from the shadows after his father's death, part beautified Frankenstein, part Chippendale (wait a moment - we haven't reached it yet!) with the memorable lyric "A womb with a view"?  (EM Forster and Noel Coward must be groaning at the well-worn pun, as well as turning in their graves.)

And so it goes on. It's an obviously fine cast, directed by Phil Willmott, who give their all and in grappling with the unwieldy material rise as far as they can above it all.

To try and sum up the story - Jimmy is determined from his schooldays to become a photographer while his mate blonde Janet (I'd Do Anything's Niamh Perry) has designs to become a vocal superstar, but ominously chooses the name "Pandora's Box" for her combo. Cue a lively schoolyard routine (choreography Lindon Barr) which might fit well into a youth musical.

Roll on the years, and Jimmy and Pandora are now all growed up pursuing their respective careers but bound to "fixer to the stars" Miles Mason (Michael Greco) who locks Jimmy and Pandora into draconian contracts and  turns out to be the devil in disguise. One of the contractual stipulations seems to be that Jimmy should ride off into the twilight zone and photograph the Seven Deadly Sins.

Cue a totally off-the-wall underground Faustian parade of the Seven Deadly Sins. That's underground as in the London Tube with station puns ranging from Anger Lane to Lusting Bec. Plus a range of influences from Cats to Roald Dahl. And there's Jimmy's traffic accident, on the motorbike gifted to him by Miles after receipt of his soul, with a hospital scene like a cross between All That Jazz  and Angels in America. 

Oh and pregnant Pandora takes an overdose while her elderly sugar daddy is on the phone arranging for her to have an abortion while Jimmy has a love interest in a homeless Irish lass, Tara (Emmerdale regular Natalie Anderson), who sells angels made out of Coke tins on Jermyn Street..

Apparently the legacy of the never-mentioned archive left by Jimmy's late Dad isn't enough to sustain his son and pay the bills. Jimmy's life and exploitation by Miles Mason is played out with classic images from the Getty archive flashed before our eyes, but there's no valid exploration of the photographer's trade.

The superficial clunky clichés only serve to highlight the curiously dated view of photography where the paparazzi are still viewed as all-powerful with  no competition from amateurs with mobile phones. 

Sure it is artistically fine to have the father dressed like an old style war photographer of the Frank Capa/Don McCullin mode. 

However when the costuming (designer Carla Goodman) and make up have a far more interesting narrative than the book, it's a musical with the wrong zoom lens. So it's a TLT rare red/amber light, red for the musical and amber for the cast and musicians who do their best with a piece which should have stayed in the darkroom

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