26 June 2006

South-West's Thesps in Vests on Nests

On Saturday B. and I went with young goddaughter E. to see Seussical the Musical at the Tobacco Factory. Despite the fantastic-sounding premise, it turned out to be a bit of a mess -- though E. thoroughly enjoyed it, which is obviously the main thing.

It was difficult to see quite who the script was pitched at. It was lengthy and slow-moving for a kids' show, with a tendency to make the liberal-humanist ethic underpinning most of Dr Seuss's work more overt than was absolutely necessary -- yet the rambling plot, free-associating seemingly at random between a score or more Seuss books, seemed altogether too incoherent for an adult attention span.

The lyrics themselves were obviously great, being mostly derived directly from the books, and the music was catchy enough. My favourite moment was the throwaway gag of having General Ghengis Khan Schmitz's platoon of conscript Whos use Green Eggs and Ham as a marching-chant, Full Metal Jacket style:
"I do not like green eggs and ham..."
"I do not like them, Sam-I-am..."

Script aside, though, this particular production had its own problems. It turned out to be mounted by drama students from the Bristol Academy of Performing Arts, which in itself is unexceptionable... but in this case seemed to have burdened the production with an overwhelmingly female-dominated cast, a minimal budget, some indifferent performances (including extremely variable American accents) and set-pieces geared a little too obviously towards conferring appropriate course credits on all the cast-members.

The biggest difficulty, sadly, was in actually hearing the lyrics -- some performers were better at projecting their voices than others, but all of them could have benefited from being miked up. The omission was particularly odd given that the band was already playing over a loudspeaker system from the lobby.

The other big letdown was the design work. The designers had decided that their best approach would be an all-white set with a handful of generic props and items of furniture (representing beds, nests and the like), and the cast in white boiler suits... rather than, say, making any effort to imitate Seuss's illustrations, which are surely around 50% of the books' appeal -- or, of course, 100%, in the event of the words being for some reason inaccessible. The only exceptions were the Cat in the Hat (dressed in black, with a tail and red-and-white striped hat and cuffs) and the bird characters (who were festooned with admittedly Seussian pink fluff. One of them had a feathered bra underneath her open-to-the-waist boiler suit, which I found strangely mesmerising.)

Perhaps there are separate licensing issues with respect to Seuss's illustrations and words, but it seems faintly insane for a production to use one but not the other.

Never mind. Young E. pronounced it "lovely", and that's what counts.

Anyway, inspired by this I've been doing some background reading on Theodore Seuss Geisel, and discovered somewhat to my surprise that he went to Lincoln College -- the alma mater of such other distinguished men of letters as Tom Paulin, John le Carré and John Wesley.

He was also a political cartoonist before he became a children's author, which is really weird. (His caricatures of Japanese people in particular are disturbingly of-their-time, although this one is grimly hilarious.)

And finally (and predictably)... we are, I'm sure, all long since familiar with this. My Doctor Who mailing-list compatriot John Seavey has come up with the shorter but equally clever this. And this and this go some way towards resolving a problem that's been troubling me for years.

No comments:

Post a Comment

(Please sign comments -- it helps keep track of things. Offensive comments may occasionally be deleted, and spam definitely will be.)