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Malvern Theatres

***

THIS highly acclaimed musical depicts a youthful generation of desperately alienated characters who seek meaning and fulfilment in music, in all kinds of sensuality, in drugs and in excess.

They are impoverished, creative and artistic, sensitive and hungry for love. They are cornered by the lack of money to pay the rent – ‘How are we going to pay?’ they angrily sing - they have no sense that the future or the past have any meaning or value, so they are existentialists, pursuing significance in the present moment and hoping its passing pleasures will in fact be lasting ones.

The image of the shopping trolleys whirling around, entangling and crashing into each other is a powerful metaphor for the world these young people inhabit. ‘Will someone care? Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?’

The musical starts with Mark who shares a flat with Roger and who captures all that is happening around him with his movie camera. Roger is grieving the loss of his girl and initially rebuffs the flirtatious and sexy advances of nineteen-year-old Mimi Marquez, but not for long. It becomes the central relationship in the musical, closely followed by that of Tom and Angel.

The latter, a drag queen, becomes a victim of AIDS, Mimi nearly dies of drug abuse and there is great deal of sadness, fragmentation and anger.

Eventually we get the sense that the humanity of this collection of lost souls, the comfort they provide each other in their shared lostness and alienation, is something that provides them with some redeeming hope.

The music is loud, often angry and shrill. The set depicts a depressing environment: the tenement blocks lack architectural charm and grace, the flats are shabby and messy. The lighting is dynamic and contributes to the vigour and energy of the show. It is a very effective set design well complemented by the lighting effects.

The scenes where Angel dies in hospital and Mimi is apparently dying in Roger’s arms are very poignant, helped in that by the quieter and more sensitive moments in the music.

The performances are likewise very graphic and effective, shocking and angry. Billy Cullum, as Mark Cohen acts as a narrator and has a softening and appeasing influence on his companions and us as the audience. All the cast deliver strong and convincing characterisations, particularly Philippa Stefani (as Mimi) and Layton Williams (as Angel).

The brief depiction of the parents of these young bohemians provide flashing and rare moments of humour. With their one-way phone calls, they are beginning to despair of ever getting news of their offspring and how they are faring. The bohemian culture, La Vie Bohème in which they are caught up, provides fleeting relief from the philosophical despair and the sense of their transience. Eventually their sense of time is not measured in minutes, hours, weeks or months, but in the ‘seasons of love’ through which they pass and in which they cling to each other for support.

This is eventually a powerful but depressing show; the first act is short of plot and development, but the second becomes more dramatic and effective in exploring these themes of despair, fragmentation and loss. To 26-11-16

Timothy Crow

22-11-16

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