Wednesday, May 11, 2016

'Devilish!' at The Landor Theatre, 10th May 2016

Devilish! is bad. The plot is cliched rubbish, the dialogue is tin-eared, the jokes aren't funny, the music is forgettable pap, the lyrics are risible and the performances are, at best, of mixed quality. From minute one I was wishing I was somewhere - anywhere - else. It is bad, bad, bad

Okay! That's that settled -  and much quicker than usual! What.. you want more? Do I have to...? Eesh. Fine.

So Devilish is a musical comedy about an angel named Angel (Alex Green) falling to earth in South London. He lands in the greenhouse of Ruth (Victoria Hope), who introduces him to her boss Nick Brimstone (Gareth James). Nick is the head of the BBC (Brimstone Broadcasting Corporation) who realises Angel is a potential ratings winner. As Angel is propelled to a celebrity, he becomes vain and egotistical. Later he goes back to being nice. Drop curtain.

First off, there are some things I'd like to single out as not completely awful. Performers Katie Ann Dolling, Louie Westwood and George Longworth try their level best to wring as much from their characters as they can. They have precious little to work with, but come at the show with gritted teeth professionalism and are thus largely responsible for any rare glimmers of enjoyment. Also, David Shield's comic-book inspired set design is up to Landor's usual high aesthetic standards.

Now the bad stuff.

First and foremost, Devilish! objectively isn't very funny, something made obvious by the fact that punchlines are generally met with an excruciating sullen silence from the audience. An unfunny comedy is that most crippling of theatrical experience, hen you're only producing the occasional embarrassed titter, it's painfully obvious too all present, performer and audience alike, that the show is failing.

Much of the blame lands with Alex Green's woeful lead performance. Angel is written as naive, good-hearted and immature, on a sweet-natured quest for humanity which reflects our own deficiencies. Instead, Green plays him as a creepy, perma-grinning moron. This Tony Blair-esque rictus grin is like something from a nightmare, exacerbated by him smiling with his mouth but not his eyes. It's a fake smile that sets off danger signals in the primordial parts of the brain, signals that tell you run to away extremely fast in the opposite direction from a predator. If they ever stage a fringe production of the American Psycho musical Green is a shoe-in for the Patrick Bateman part, but an angel he is not.

Victoria Hope isn't so bad in comparison, but she's lumbered with the thankless role of having to fall in love with Angel. Fair play, she tries really, really hard - but making this relationship work is a task of Sisiphyean proportions. For all her efforts Ruth and Angel end up as much romantic chemistry as a pair of plastic mannequins, their big kiss engendering the same shivers of discomfort you'd get watching on-stage incest. 

In the programme playwright/lyricist Chris Burgess and composer BB Cooper claim John Ruskin, H.G. Wells, Pieter Breugel, W.H. Auden, Oscar Wilde and Gustav Mahler as inspirations. Mentioning those luminaries in the same breath as Devilish! is just perverse. This is a show aimed at the lowest common denominator that somehow manages to fall short of that. It should be dragged out back and put out of its misery.

Devilish is at The Landor Theatre until the 29th of May 2015. Tickets here.

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