The Green Fairy – The Union Theatre, London

Director, Book and Music: Jack Sain

Lyrics: Jack Sain and Stephen Libby

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Christmas is rapidly approaching and that always brings stories about reflection and redemption. The character of Scrooge became a prototype for those who revisit the past in order to determine a better future. Jack Sain gives the idea an added twist by not setting his new musical The Green Fairy in the season of merriment and making his protagonist a middle-aged alcoholic with a complicated love life and a daughter she barely sees.

Jo comes to see her daughter Wendy performing at an open mic night at the The Green Fairy pub but after an argument she gets drunk and bar owner Toby lets Jo sleep on the pub sofa. Reaching for a late-night bottle of absinthe, a Green Fairy appears and, facing an early death, Jo recounts the story of her youthful love triangle with Toby and friend Daniel, as well as the mysterious Eliza who Jo was unable to forget.

Sain’s musical has a number of interesting elements but running at an over-extended two hours and twenty minutes, there is too little plot or substantial characterisation to carry the show. In fact the overall purpose of The Green Fairy takes quite a while to reveal itself with Act One focusing on the lasting impression of the one-night-only connection with Eliza while Act Two takes the story into mother-daughter territory without ever being sure which of these twin narratives is really in charge.

Sain and co-lyricist Stephen Libby have a tendency to throw new information into the mix without any context and Eliza is presented as though the audience already knows who she is, while later there is repeated reference to an accident that Jo feels terribly guilty about which is never properly clarified – these devices are used to introduce or conveniently rid the plot of superfluous characters. Equally baffling is the decision to have two versions of Jo as her younger and middle-aged self, yet the same actors play Toby and Daniel throughout.

What we never get is a real sense of who these characters are and what they care about. Jo has plenty of angsty ballads about wasting her life, but the audience never really sympathise with her or get any proper insight into her struggles. Much of The Green Fairy is framed to suggest Jo’s weakness but as the songs leap from year to year, moving Jo from a connection to Eliza to conventional marriage, parenthood and alcoholism in a flash, there’s no time to consider the pressure her character feels to conform to societal expectations for women, whether repressing her sexuality has caused deeper hurts and why she is unable to face the responsibility of life later on.

Julie Atherton has to do some fairly poor drunk acting as Jo but is given little character development in the script. Georgina Hellier’s The Green Fairy doubles as Eliza with some rapid cutting between the two delivering the sulty ‘To Hollywood’ in the second half which is one of the better songs, even if Eliza’s film star status is hard to believe. David Perkins as Daniel and Harry F Brown as Toby are fairly interchangeable and unbelievable as Jo’s erstwhile love interests while Emma Kinney as Wendy has little to do. The fluid introduction of different instruments played by the cast gives the show a dynamic element that is very interesting, but the singing in the full company numbers isn’t always harmonious.

The Green Fairy’s final number severely chastises Jo, the message is that life stinks, she is selfish and it’s all her own fault, which is pretty encouraging! So often this feels like two shows: one about Eliza, one about Wendy; one with some very funny lines, one with terrible clichés. At the same time there are too many plot points that stretch the story beyond its limits, but also not quite enough character focus to justify the runtime. However, as we approach the season of redemption and second chances, there’s enough here to suggest a tighter second draft might just offer The Green Fairy a better future.

Runs Until: 23 November 2019 | Image: Contributed

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