“If you have a good strong finish, they’ll forgive you for anything” – never has a phrase been more apt.
Ben Cawood’s ‘Gypsy: A Musical Fable’, brought to you by TCMS, was a rollercoaster of emotions. Sometimes the action glided at a fair rate; other times it ground piercingly to a halt. By the end it goes off the rails completely, leaving viewers wondering how they got there in the first place. But through all the chaos, ‘Gypsy’ was, for the most part, frantic fun – although occasionally marred by the odd dip in energy.
The real strength of ‘Gypsy’ was its play-within-a-play structure, brought to viewers with two sisters June (Emilia Lewis and Alex Thompson) and Louise (Cecily Morley). These actors’ backs certainly must ache after carrying most of the play’s energy for two hours. I was particularly impressed by Lewis’ rendition of ‘May We Entertain You’, whose comedic role as an incompetent performer reminded me of the actor’s previous role as Brooke in ‘Noises Off’. Coupled with a thoroughly engaging chorus troupe, most notably Georgia Malkin’s Agnes, these sequences were highly energized and enjoyable to watch.
The 2nd act was driven mainly by Morley. Growing increasingly impatient of her mother, Rose’s (Lara Mulgrew) assertion over her life, I really enjoyed the growing angst between them. The depiction of her character growth in this final section is well-charted, especially her discomforting final rendition of ‘Let Me Entertain You’, and her increasing estrangement from Rose.
Between these scenes however, the play tended to fall flat. Lara Mulgrew does, nonetheless, redeem the play’s slower-paced moments with her dazzling vocals, and increasingly manic gestures. Like Morley, Mulgrew does an excellent job in charting the development of her character throughout, especially her deteriorating mental state. And whilst I would have liked a little more angst between her and Herbie (Thomas Rainford), especially in their moments of conflict, Mulgrew’s delivery manages to keep viewers’ attention, especially in the play’s more lacklustre moments.
Unfortunately, the piece did, at times, feel a little unrehearsed. Each time the stage lights came back up during a scene transition – I wanted to scream. At one point a crew member tiptoed onstage to remove a lonely placard, and I thought to myself, ‘What was the point?’ It was funny, in truth, but messy. Half-way through the set even started to fall apart, with a flat of a ‘Train Station’ flopping pitifully to the floor. But as this was during one of the many self-aware ‘bad rehearsal songs’, it enhanced it in a way. Audiences didn’t seem to mind; and it wasn’t much of an issue. But it did feel a little unfortunate.
These moments were, nonetheless, offset by a fantastic orchestra, set design (when it’s not falling apart) and costumes. Especially during the final burlesque sequence, Louise’s increasingly provocative garments were absolutely stunning which, coupled with a chorus of angel costumes and feathers – successfully immersed viewers into the action. I particularly enjoyed the visuals during this final moment (how Morley managed those costume changes, I’ll never know!), charting her growing stardom in contrast with her mother’s stasis, signalled by her same costume throughout.
Whilst ‘Gypsy’ does have its fair share of lacklustre moments, then, this was redeemed by a skilful cast, orchestra and stunning visuals. The ending, most certainly, saves the piece from hitting rock bottom: and does, for the most part, make me forget about the less-than-par moments. With further rehearsal and increased energy between song sequences, ‘Gypsy’ could truly captivate viewers. For now, however, I will conclude with a quote from my favourite 90s romcom, 10 Things I Hate About You. ‘I know you can be underwhelmed, and you can be overwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?’ The answer, it seems, is yes.
Featured Image by TCMS.