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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
DEAR WORLD
at Charing Cross Theatre

A BIT OF A MESS
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Anthony Barclay, Peter Land, Robert Meadmore, Stuart Matthew Price, Jack Rebaldi/ Ph: Eric Richmond

About 10 minutes into the British premiere of Dear World (score by Jerry Herman, book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee), the Charing Cross Theater felt less like a place of entertainment than an intensive care unit at the hospital that bears the same name. For what I was looking at was a seriously ill musical in its death throes.

An adaptation of a whimsical play by Jean Giraudoux called The Madwoman of Chaillot, it was first seen on Broadway in 1969 in an elaborate production starring Angela Lansbury as the Countess  Aurelia, a dotty old broad who lives in the past and abhors the brutality of the present. 

She is a representative on Earth of all that is good in mankind, as opposed to the villains of the piece, a trio of grasping, capitalistic prospectors (Peter Land, Jack Rebaldi and Robert Meadmore) who have discovered oil under a cafe in Paris owned by the countess and are determined to dig for it, regardless of the cost to the environment. The show, forever teetering precariously on the brink of fantasy, is a whimsical, almost twee clash between the forces of good and evil.

In attempting to bestow on this ailing invalid the kiss of life, the creative team behind its attempted resurrection has reworked the material by providing it with a revised book (thanks but no thanks to David Thompson) and by mucking around with the score. Hence the catchy title song is completely wasted in a kind of whispered version that makes no impact whatsoever. A pity, because apart from "One Person" and "I Don't Want to Know," the score needs all the help it can get.

The main problem I had with the fey material was a total lack of involvement with any of the characters. They're all so under-developed you don't care about any of them, especially the young lovers (Stuart Matthew Price and Katy Treharne), whose sub-plot is all but invisible. It's all so bitty and insubstantial, which Gillian Lynne's tepid direction and choreography only highlights. 

Not even Broadway's Betty Buckley, always welcome on these shores, can animate the proceedings. Her voice is no longer what it used to be, and despite her best efforts she seemed, at the performance I caught, to be approaching the role at arms length.

Annabel Leventon and Rebecca Lock as a pair of seriously demented biddies (one keeps hearing inner-voices, the other is accompanied everywhere by an imaginary dog) give the only stand-out performances and do the best they can with the text's whimsy, while Paul Nicholas makes a game attempt to keep embarrassment at bay in the nothing role of a benign sewerman.

Were I a medical man, I'd say the patient that is Dear World doesn't have very long to live.

 


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