Book: Diane Samuels
Music &Lyrics: Gywneth Herbert
Director: Sam Buntrock
Reviewer: Joanna Trainor
“Best foot forward”; the start of a new chapter for Mrs P, as she leaves her husband in Venice, but also a phrase synonymous with her task to map London, street by street. A new British musical is always a welcome sight, especially a story of something like the A-Z that is so iconic for the capital.
Isy Suttie’s endearing, vulnerable Mrs P, may not have the best singing voice, but somehow that just adds to how likeable her character is. Although her name is in the title, we learn far more about her parents’ relationship, than her own adolescent adventures. This seems a shame, seeing as she briefly mentions her time sleeping rough in Paris, where she met Nabokov; perhaps slightly more interesting than the tale of when her parents met at a dairy.
The set in the traverse space is beautiful. Hanging from the ceiling and the back wall are mementos of places in London. Letters, street names, suitcases, pictures create a scene that is as scattered as Mrs P’s ditzy nature, but also have the homely feeling of an artist’s organised chaos. Klara Zieglerova’s design is as much a character as the other actors on stage.
Most of the original music is quirky and pleasant, however this reviewer definitely struggled with the message of ‘A Girl Needs a Husband’, especially as Mrs P never remarried after leaving Robert Pearsall. Some of the songs seem unnecessary and don’t add anything to the story; the ‘Painting Song,’ springs to mind. Two and a half hours in length, it could easily be tightened up by removing some of the more superfluous numbers.
Michael Matus and Frances Ruffelle’s performances in the second act steal the show. Ruffelle’s descent into madness is distressing to say the least. Her wine stained nightgown, mascara smeared face and ripped tights, along with the continuous sound of horse hooves playing in her mind is a stark contrast from the young ambitious girl we first meet. From her frantic and erratic movements around the stage, to her painful stillness with her back to the audience, it is as upsetting to watch as her children’s final goodbye.
Matus’ larger than life Hungarian business man, fills the stage with his presence. What Matus is gifted at doing is being an individual that is hated and liked in equal measure. The way he treats his wife and daughter is inexcusable, but his honesty, unintentional hilarity and zest for life is infectious.
This is not a production that will change your life, but its underlying sweetness and portrayal of the resilience of human nature, makes it a show that will warm any winter evening.
Photo: Jane Hobson
Runs until 29th March