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Marguerite – Tabard Theatre, London

Music: Michel Legrand

New Book: Alain Boublil &Guy Unsworth

Lyrics: Herbert Kretzmer

Based upon the original book: Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg &Jonathan Kent with additions by Marie Zamora

Director: Guy Unsworth

Reviewer: Michael Rawlings

[rating:3.5]

Marguerite arrived in London originally in 2008, amid much fanfare heralding this new musical from the Les Miserables creators, Boublil and Schonberg, and starring one of the stars of musical theatre, Ruthie Henshall. It was generally received rather well, gaining three Olivier nominations in the process, but closed six weeks early. Since then, it has been reworked around the world and now the whole piece has been reconceived to become “suitable for a small company in a small space”, according to the programme notes, with Boublil teaming up with director Guy Unsworth to refocus the story yet again to provide “a haunting but impossible love story”.

There is much to like about this production. As Fringe shows go, the production values are exceptionally high. Max Dorey’s design is breathtakingly beautiful and instantly atmospheric, with such detail and care displayed everywhere. The lighting design from Howard Hudson is a masterpiece in its own right, full of subtle shifts and blends, perfectly crafted to work with the set and the actors. Coupled together, the two have created a theatrical field which is by far the best use of the Tabard’s stage in recent years. Add into this a superb sound design from Pete Malkin which provides a perfect balance between the cast and the seven piece band, as well as an ingenious soundscape, and the result is technically brilliant.

Sadly, however, the content of the piece, particularly in Act 1, never lives up to its setting. The events of Act 1 appear in such a rushed fashion, and with no real sense of why they are happening, that it is like watching a play in fast forward. We are expected to see that Armand and Marguerite fall hopelessly in love with each other against the cruel oppression she faces at the hands of her German lover; yet none of this is properly explored or given any depth in the first half of the show. There is nothing to endear Marguerite herself as a character to us so it is very difficult to think why we should care about her plight and invest in this love affair that damply fizzles out of nowhere.

Act 2 holds more promise but it like the emotional dial is suddenly pushed to maximum during the interval; huge dramatic events and emotions spill out almost immediately, but due to a lack of urgency in Act 1, these seem almost hyperbolic with no lead up provided. Act 2 is definitely more streamlined and focused, yet at 45 minutes, still appears rather rushed with some key areas skimmed over (or even happening offstage with no explanation) rather than being explored properly.

This is a shame as the cast is largely full of great talent yet the principal characters are all pretty unlikeable. Yvette Robinson puts in a tremendous performance as Marguerite, with lungs of steel, yet the writing does not allow us to properly bond with her. Similarly, Nadim Naaman is full of warmth but we simply don’t understand why he is in love with Marguerite or where the depth of his feelings arose from.

The stand out performance of the evening comes from Zoe Doano as Annette. Her journey is the most fascinating, although severely underdeveloped, as she actually provides the audience with someone to care about and empathise with. The little glimpses we do see of her relationship with Armand, her brief meeting with Marguerite itself, and her own feelings carry more emotion than everything else combined.

This is a bold reworking of Marguerite as a piece, but one that fails to give us proper characters for us to invest in the story.

Photo: Helen Archer

Runs until 27th October

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