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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the New London


  Darius Danesh (Rhett Butler) and Jill Paice (Scarlett O'Hara)/PH:Catherine Ashmore

Some seasoned theater folk headed by the director Trevor Nunn have joined forces with an utter unknown in American composer/co-creator Margaret Martin to come up with a loooong, intermittently intriguing, mostly pointless stage musical version of Gone with the Wind -though running 3 hours 40 minutes on press night, the musical actually isn't quite the epic sit demanded by the venerated 1939 film. That this show seems infinitely lengthier owes everything to the sheer impossibility of a task that was in fact attempted on the West End once before, in a 1972 Drury Lane musical of the same source material, starring June Ritchie and Harve Presnell as Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler and directed by Joe Layton.

I can't comment on that adaptation, but the latest go-round is of a recognizable piece with the story-telling strand to Nunn's work that reached its apotheosis with Nicholas Nickleby , co-directed with John Caird. That one took eight-plus hours and two halves to tell a Dickensian narrative that doesn't in fact depend on one person the way this Gone with the Wind inevitably falls on the slim hips and overburdened shoulders of Jill Paice, the Woman in White alumna whom Nunn has cast as Scarlett. For all her iconic status from both Margaret Mitchell's novel and the David O Selznick film, is Scarlett really a heroine for our times? Not on the evidence of PhD Martin's pious, rabidly earnest transliteration to the stage, in which Tara's celebrated inhabitant quickly wears out her welcome: audiences are likely to have decided they don't give a damn about this Scarlett well before Darius Danesh's unexpectedly appealing Rhett announces as much, to whistles of recognition, and delight from the first-night audience.(Not to fear,though: this thankfully doesn't descend into a Spamalot of the antebellum South, with spectators chiming along their favorite lines.)

One does,of course, have to ask why all involved even bothered, though Les Miserables no doubt seemed even more of a folly, and look what happened there? But surely someone of Nunn's experience and judgment could have applied far more rigor to a piece at which I wasn't so much guessing lines as they were spoken, but entire verses and exchanges. Where such a sprawling narrative would seem to demand an element of surprise, Gone with the Wind falls into virtually all the available traps: the black community, as if on furlough from Nunn's underpowered West End Porgy and Bess, dream of being free Scarlett's Irish pa (Julian Forsyth) gets a jaunty, entirely ridiculous Irish tribute to the land ( Connemara rhymes helpfully with Tara) and the narration is pushed along by information snippets that are hurled at us from atop John Napier's not very atmospheric environmental set with occasional segues where one character or another will announce for our benefit just what it is they are doing. Indeed, I've rarely seen a show so hellbent on keeping us apprised of its lead's every changing mood and motivation: if Scarlett's feelings are going to be anatomized so fully for us, what's left for the tireless and sadly, rather charmless Paice to act?

It's been a long time, admittedly, since I've seen the movie, but I certainly don't recall Vivien Leigh cutting as irritating a screen figure as we get here, and neither Martin nor Nunn does much to interest us in an apparent ice queen-turned-murderess who takes an eternity to figure out that the dashing bad boy, Rhett, really does love her and that someone 17 years her senior- and possessed of such memorable sideburns - is probably a more interesting match than Scarlett's beloved, inevitably doomed Ashley Wilkes, played by Edward Baker-Duly. (It's not giving too mu


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