REVIEW: Marguerite – Theatre Royal Haymarket, London

This evening I was fortunate enough to be invited along to the Press Night for one of the West End’s newest openings, Marguerite.

This opening marks the world premiere of a new musical collaboration between Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg (Les Misérables, Miss Saigon and Martin Guerre) and the Oscar award-winning musical legend Michel Legrand and lyricist Herbert Kretzmer (Les Misérables). The ever fabulous Ruthie Henshall, the award-winning West End and Broadway actress, returns to the London stage to play the title role.

Needless to say, I was rather excited as I am a big Ruthie fan, and historically have also really enjoyed the musical by-products of the Boublil-Schönberg partnership.

Therefore, if you’re looking for a musical that is typically Boublil-Schönberg then (perhaps unfortunately) this will be right up your alley. I say unfortunately, as it seems that they have stuck to their usual tried and tested themes and contexts with Marguerite, and have not really thrown anything new into the mix that I’ve not seen them do before. However, if you are looking for something new that isn’t adventurously different from their other works, then I think this will be the musical that you’ve been longing for since their frustrating attempts back in the mid 1990’s at telling the story of Martin Guerre.

At around 2 hours 15 minutes including interval, I found the length of the show to be just right. It didn’t feel particularly rushed, and I was left feeling that I could have stayed for a little bit longer had the story wanted to progress further.

The story line to this show is the ‘typical Boublil-Schönberg’ war-time, boy meets girl he shouldn’t have met but decides to sing in a big booming voice at her until she falls in love with him kind of thing – perhaps more succinctly summed up as a love story set in occupied Paris during the Second World War. Marguerite, the beautiful and notorious mistress of a high ranking German officer, falls for Armand a young musician half her age. Armand’s obsessive love for Marguerite puts them both at risk. The story itself is based on the romantic novel, La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas [incidentally, the exact same story as Baz Lurhmans’ film “Moulin Rouge” was based upon]

I was disappointed to find that there wasn’t really a keynote song in this production, unlike the big punching-the-air, résistance-wins-hurrah songs that the writing team usually come out with. Indeed I cannot really remember too many of the songs from this production, though I do remember liking the jazz song “Jazz Time” quite a lot.

At times, I found it quite difficult to distinguish the lyric of the songs due to the staging of three or four actors all singing over each other, all in the same pitch and at the same volume. This made it nigh impossible at times to pick out bits of a character’s story and contrast it with another’s. Similarly, it seems that some of the lyrics of Boublil’s penmanship may have been slightly lost in translation as some of the lyrics just didn’t gel and actually jarred (in my humble opinion).

I do not wish to appear negative about this production though, as I actually rather enjoyed it. Perhaps I’m being a little too critical as I had been hoping for something new and exciting as opposed to traditional and safe.

The staging of this production is amazing. The scenery is wonderfully mastered and they really do manage to transform the stage so many times over. Carlos and I were both left going ‘wow’ every time they did a scene change and so hats off to the very talented production crew!

Ruthie Henshall is, as always, stunning. There’s no other word for her performance and I feel that she really sold her character’s story to me. Not only that, but she is looking fantastic! Alexander Hanson didn’t quite live up to my expectations of a fierce German general, especially having seen him play a nasty bad guy in We Will Rock You a few years ago, though he still managed to bring an unnerving sense of danger to the persona of his character in the most subtle of ways. Julian Ovenden was also a good leading man and seemed to fill the role very well.

I did find the lack of accents slightly unnerving to watch as French and German characters alike were all talking in the Queen’s English without even so much as a regional British, let alone foreign, accent between them. I know that this is the magic of the theatre and something that’s a typical trait in Boublil-Schönberg productions; however I felt that at least some attempt at an accent would have helped bring a little more authenticity and context to the production.

Despite my earlier comments, I did really enjoy the story line to this show and I must confess that by the end of the production I was dabbing my eyes quite a bit! At one point, I was actually quite shocked by the blunt and graphic staging of the final scenes and at at times even flinched in my seat. I found these final scenes especially to be very well performed by all involved, though it did make it a little hard to watch without being appalled at what was being acted out on stage.

If you’re after a gritty, well acted, intellectual and intelligent musical but have already seen Les Mis, then this would certainly be my recommendation for you.

******************************

Principal Cast [as at May 2008]

Marguerite Ruthie Henshall
Armand Julian Ovenden
Otto Alexander Hanson
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About Gari

Thirty-Two year old northern lad; living out in the Peak District and rediscovering life after having had a brain tumour.

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