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September 1, 2013 9:57 pm
It is a coup indeed for Youth Music Theatre UK to become the first ensemble outside Lindsay’s Kemp’s own troupe to be granted the rights to perform one of his works. A deciding factor must have been the choice of director. Kinny Gardner, who performed in the original 1996 production of Variété, brings an authentic tang to this heavily reworked version, even if he pulls his punches when it comes to the excess and camp with which Kemp made his name.
The reworking has been largely undertaken by composer Carlos Miranda who has revisited his original score – not always to positive effect. His style veers from Weill to vaudeville, and often accompanies the expressionistic direction of the cast with trite melody. Chris de Wilde’s designs rely on the most basic of props and sets, lending a welcome Brechtian quality to the stage picture.
Variété is based on Büchner’s Woyzeck, the tale of a little man crushed by society who murders his unfaithful wife. Kemp added the setting of a circus, which allowed for greater flights of fancy, not least for the central character Franz Vogel, originally played by Kemp himself. In this revival the cast is more evenly balanced. Joe Bence displays a clear talent for physical comedy as Vogel, and both he and Andrew Davison’s preening Rex are compact and blond. They seem seem to represent two sides of the same man, which makes Marie’s infatuation with the smouldering Rex more understandable after Vogel’s innocent love. Zoe Villiers, as the deaf-mute object of their desires, executes an impressive trapeze routine but the laurels go to young Lewys Ball whose Wolf Boy, complete with yelps, howls and, of course, songs, displays a confidence and command of the stage beyond his years.
But how well can a work by Kemp work without Kemp himself? Certainly, the absence of his look-at-me persona at its centre exposes the lack of coherence in his libretto, the jolting gear-changes of mood, and a love of cheap effect. The young cast of the Youth Music Theatre are to be congratulated for their unwavering belief in what they are doing even if, without Kemp himself liberally sprinkling his fairy dust, one questions whether the emperor may be wearing few if any clothes.
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