Friday, September 18, 2015

'See What I Wanna See' at the Jermyn Street Theatre, 17th September 2015

In hindsight, perhaps the all-singing rape scene wasn't the greatest idea in theatrical history. This is just one of many problems with See What I Wanna See: a tangled mess of a musical that stumbles t from the get-go. 

Based on three short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the show is composed of three vignettes. The first, set in medieval Japan, tells the brief story of doomed lovers Kesa and Morito. This is conveyed by having two slightly embarrassed looking actors joylessly dry hump each other while they lyrically assure us that they're having the time of their lives. 

The second act finds us in New York, 1951, where we partake in the predatory behaviour of psychopath Jimmy Mako. He's entranced by a nightclub singer and resolves to dispatch both her and a troublesome husband. To this end he lures them into a park, ties up the husband and rapes the singer. You'd think she'd object a bit afterwards, yet instead she turns on her husband and sides with the serial killer rapist.

The final act is once more set in New York, now post 9/11. A priest has lost his faith and, bitter with the world and everyone in it, concocts a false prophecy of a miracle where Christ will arise from a lake in Central Park. His lie catches on and soon spiritually desperate New Yorkers are thronging the lake, hoping against hope for holy salvation on 'Glory Day'.

None of these stories are particularly interesting; the characters are creaky one-dimensional stereotypes, the dialogue/lyrics banal and the narrative sending me to the point of snoozedom. At it's worst it feels like someone tried to write an intentionally bad musical, especially in cringeworthy moments where a Lindsay Lohan-a-like sings: "Thank God for my dealer / And for the vodka / That mellows the coke. The coke. The coke. The coke. The coke. The coke. The coke. Yeah." Or for that matter, some of the opening lyrics: "He knifes into my body / Forcibly and proud / My love is incredibly endowed / Thicker than my husband." 

I mean... I just... it... well... ah... 


 Still, credit to the cast for delivering this with a straight face. All five, Jonathan Butterell, Cassie Compton, Marc Elliott, Mark Goldthorp and Sarah Ingram, have multiple characters to play across the different time periods. They approach this task with gritted-teeth professionalism, eking out what little enjoyment is possible from reciting this guff. Even so, the night is sprinkled with bum notes from the cast, and a dully workmanlike job from the band.

This is received by an increasingly sullen audience. There's little pauses after each number where, theoretically, we should applaud but instead we sat there silently, wishing they'd just get on with it. 

Amazingly, there is one moment that enters the realm of 'good'. The number 'The Greatest Practical Joke' proves to be, by far, the best thing in the show. Delivered with gusto by Sarah Ingram, it displays a lyrical sharpness that's so at odds with everything else in the show that I have my doubts its even from the same writer. The number is met with a smattering of stunned applause, both for Ingram's performance and in surprise that something of genuine quality has poked its head up from the muck.

Were it not for this singular moment, the evening would have been a complete write-off. As it was it's just a waste of time. Having done a bit of post-show research on writer/composer Michael LaChuisa, I'm perplexed to find that he's highly regarded by musical theatre aficionados for his narrative and musical adventurousness. Now, I'll grant you that most musicals don't go in for toe-tapping rape/murder scenes, coked out priest fucking and Rashomon aping alt-narratives, but it largely comes across as a sophomoric attempt at edginess while hinting at intellectual depths that just aren't there.

See What I Wanna See? I wanna see something else.


See What I Wanna See is at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 3 October. Tickets here.

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