It Happened in Key West, Charing Cross Theatre

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By Laura Kressly

In 1930s Key West, German x-ray technician Carl Tanzler harbours an obsession for a local woman dying of Tuberculosis. Claiming to have nine degrees and access to technology that will cure her, he lavishes her with gifts and dubious treatments though the married woman never returns his affections. When she inevitably dies, he pays for the construction a mausoleum for her. Not content with this tribute, two years after her death he steals her remains and lives with them as his wife for seven years before being discovered.

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Harold and Maude, Charing Cross Theatre

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by guest critic Maeve Campbell

Hal Asby’s 1971 film Harold and Maude is a masterpiece. Harold is nineteen and
obsessed with death. He meets Maude, a week off eighty, who lives her life to its fullest
and is constantly seeking new experiences. Opposites attract, and what plays out is one
of the most charming, unusual and sincere romances in celluloid history. Thom
Southerland’s Charing Cross Theatre revival is lovely but misses out on the sincerity
that helped garner the film’s cult classic status.

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The Braille Legacy, Charing Cross Theatre

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Discovery of the evening: Louis Braille was a child when he developed the alphabet of raised dots into the writing still used by blind and visually impaired people around the world today. It’s an especially impressive feat considering the run down and under-resourced institution he attended, Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris. However, the prevalent hostile attitude towards disabled people was a constant obstacle towards the system’s adoption; even the belief that blind people could be academically educated was radical at the time.

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Piaf, Charing Cross Theatre

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Icon Edith Piaf inspired numerous films and plays, including 1978 play with music, Piaf. The four foot, 8 inches tall chanteuse from a broken home died at just 47, but left a songbook often heard in popular culture. These songs, which feature heavily, epitomize the defiant spirit of a France under attack, painfully relevant today. Addicted to drink and painkillers, the little sparrow must have struggled immensely with her inner demons but Pam Gems’ script avoids such nuance, for her or any of the other characters. Cameron Leigh’s belter of a voice reveals Piaf’s passion and turmoil through her songs, and the rest of the cast provide good vocal support, but Gems’ diabolically awful book manages to be rushed, tedious and two-dimensional all at once.

Portrayed as a selfish, junkie nymphomaniac who treats people as commodities, there is little room for audience sympathy in the first half. The scenes are short and delivered with an even, speedy pace; it’s as if director Jari Laakso feels uncomfortable with Piaf’s poor characterization and the gaping jumps in time that leave even the most important of events glossed over, and he wants to get to the interval ASAP. The second half marginally improves as Piaf’s health declines and she is seen as frail, vulnerable and poor. A few of the lines get laughs, as the humour is less distasteful than earlier in the play.

Cameron Leigh is an explosive barrage of rudeness as Edith Piaf and clearly struggles to find any decency in the script’s portrayal. Instead, she wisely focuses on revealing the character’s emotional life in her songs, the best feature of this play. Backed up by her best friend Toine (Samantha Spurgin), Marlene Dietrich (the imposingly glam Valerie Cutko) and an array of multi-rolling men and actor-musos, their vocal prowess makes this production bearable. It’s a small cast for the number of characters, but there is some good physical multi-rolling and costume indications help make up for scarcity in the dialogue.

Laakso and the cast energetically do their best, but the overwhelming issue in Piaf is Gems’ atrocious script. Otherwise, the songs are well sung, the production suits the theatre well and the set (Phillipa Batt) and lighting (Chris Randall) are well considered and often striking. It’s just a shame Gems isn’t alive to re-write it.


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