Writer: Alexander Dinelaris
Director: Thea Sharrock
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Rachel Marron is a superstar actress and singer. Her concerts are spectacular events with dazzling dancing, powerful pyrotechnics and lurid lights. She also has a ten-year-old son, Fletcher, of whom she is fiercely protective, an entourage of publicists and agents … and a menacing stalker. Wraithlike, the stalker is able to slip through security to leave threatening notes in Rachel’s dressing rooms and get close to her. Enter Frank Farmer, ex-Secret Service agent. Rachel initially rebels, but when one act of rebellion sees her rescued from the stalker’s knife by Frank, she reconsiders and reassesses her feelings towards Frank. Meanwhile, Rachel’s sister and songwriting partner Nicki is feeling increasingly in Rachel’s shadow. Frank sees her perform at a local club and the two flirt. So the stage is set for a tense battle of wits between Frank and the stalker as well as a love triangle involving the sisters and Frank.
The Bodyguard is truly a visual extravaganza. We’re treated to lots of excerpts from Rachel’s concerts with all their ballyhoo. Tim Hatley’s set uses sliding elements to whisk us from location to location and also to focus our attention – the whole has a rather cinematic feel, which is only heightened through the use of projection and video including a very striking image when the shadow of Frank holding Rachel protectively is projected on to a wall of haze. The whole is very slick, as one might expect from a concert from someone of Rachel’s standing. It’s also stunning aurally: the rôle of Rachel is shared between Alexandra Burke and Jennlee Shallow; at press night and for the first week at Wolverhampton it is Shallow in the rôle. She has a powerful voice and moves well across the stage – her performance of I Have Nothing that closes the first half is a true showstopper though her diction sometimes lacks clarity. Micha Richardson brings us the put-upon sister, Nicki. Richardson’s voice is sweeter and her songs more thoughtful, though still sung with conviction. Her rendition of Saving All My Love for You in the club is supremely touching. One can truly empathise with her as her backstory is revealed – a superb performance all round. Benoît Maréchal brings us Frank Farmer. He certainly has the looks for the rôle, though his acting is perhaps a little stiff and his accent sometimes slips. Even so, his reluctant performance of I Will Always Love You in a karaoke bar is a comedic masterpiece.
On a superficial level, the evening is very entertaining: there’s plenty of eye candy whatever your preference may be and the musical numbers are never less than spectacular. But it’s all very shallow: most characters remain obstinately two-dimensional – for example, the stalker is rather pantomimic in his villainy – it’s never quite clear just how he is able to slice through layers of security like a hot knife through butter. As a result, the tension isn’t racked up and one doesn’t feel the palpable menace one does in the finest thrillers. The plot is thin and predictable with Alexander Dinelaris’ book being a somewhat clunky vehicle on which to hang the musical performances.
So something of a curate’s egg: the impressive musical numbers alone make for a spectacular and entertaining evening, but if you’re looking for depth of characterisation then it’s best to look elsewhere.
Runs Until 6 July 2019 and on tour | Image: Paul Coltas