devisers:Leslie Bricusse, Christopher Renshaw and Danielle Tarento
Director: Christopher Renshaw
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
A quirky man in a top hat swings open a giant door to reveal an enormous garden filled with plants and flowers, with a giant waterfall running through the centre. The children let go of their parents’ hands and rush into the shrubbery staring in awe and grabbing at everything. The quirky man observing his guest’s joy begins to sing about the land of imagination. This is of course the most famous scene in the 1971 version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and the song Pure Imagination now lends its title to this new celebratory collective on the work of songwriter Leslie Bricusse.
The most astounding thing to emerge from the evening is the sheer volume of Bricusse’s work, songs that audiences instantly recognise, songs that you didn’t realise he wrote and others whose stage and film musical origins have been long forgotten. There is a narrative structure of sorts, loosely following the love story of two couples interspersed with those moment of imagination that bring in the rest of the canon, using the character of ‘The Joker’ to signal changes in story and tone.
Songs from all over the place have been cleverly brought together to create vignettes giving fragmentary insight into a particular moment in a relationship or day dream. At the end it seems that the stories should add-up although this isn’t entirely obvious, but instead what you get more clearly is the telling of poignant and emotionally engaging short stories. One particularly touching section involves a couple deciding to separate as they plunder the decades to sing Living in the Shadows from Victor/Victoria (1995), You Are All the Music from new musical Sunday Dallas (2015), Goodbye, My Love from Ondine (1974) and finally Who Can I Turn To? from The Roar of the Grease Paint – The Smell of the Crowd’ (1965). It’s an innovative approach that works really well.
It’s not all dour love songs and two fantastic sections appear after the interval; the first shrewdly celebrates Bricusse’s involvement in the iconic Bond themes Goldfinger, Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and You Only Live Twice. With Spectre only weeks away this affectionate nod to 007 is timely in the wake of the latest controversial Bond song. Next a brilliant Pink Panther sequence turns neatly in Dr Doolittle’s Talk to the Animals before the evening ties up the love stories to end appropriately on Feeling Good – a song that has escaped it’s musical origins and taken on an independent life of its own.
The performances are all excellent, mixing different styles and tones to create a diverse evening. Dave Willetts, Siobhan McCarthy, Niall Sheehy and Julie Atherton belt out the emotional tunes playing the two couples each getting their chance to shine, but the stand-out moment comes from Giles Terera playing ‘The Joker’ in his rendition of What Kind of Fool Am I that is tender and full of pathos. Great work also from the orchestra, led by Michael England, that flips easily between styles setting the tone well for each section.
Pure Imagination is a nostalgic trip through 50 years of song-writing which allows a lifetime of film to flash before your eyes. The overall structure may not entirely convince as a through-narrative but the chance to relive and rediscover long-forgotten tunes is sure to create an audience-pleasing hit. One thing’s for sure if you ever dreamed of Wonka’s edible garden and drinking from the chocolate river, then you’ll have Gene Wilder in your head all the way home.
Runs until: 17 October| Photo:Annabel Vere