Friday, 03 February 2017

Death Takes A Holiday

Seasoned actors forced to play it straight when the only thing that could have saved it was laughs

Written by Richard Barber

The ever-resourceful Thom Southerland has wrought miracles in small spaces with a succession of recent revivals; you might even call them retrievals. But what on earth possessed him to disinter Death Takes A holiday, a woeful offering from the usually reliable Maury Yeston (music and lyrics) and Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan (book)?

Based on a 1920s Italian play by Alberto Casella, the story begins with a young heiress, Grazia (Zoë Doano), returning with her fiancé and family to their villa on the banks of the Lago di Garda. When their car crashes, she’s thrown clear, surely to meet her maker. But no, because Death, in the guise of a handsome young man, scoops her up and Richard-Barber-colour-176she is duly reunited with her family quite unscathed.

Death then turns up at the villa, now posing as a Russian prince, and Grazia duly falls in love with him, breaking off her engagement in the process. Some two hours later, this pyramid of piffle comes to a welcome if utterly unconvincing conclusion.

It’s ludicrous, so the only way to have made this work would have been to play it for laughs. As it is, the cast are required to take it seriously (although this caused some uncomfortable chuckling on the first night), seasoned actors wringing their hands and beginning speeches with: ‘Why, oh why?’ or declaring: ‘this would be unbearable for my wife and I.’ (He meant ‘my wife and me’.)

This is Southerland’s third Yeston musical, following Titanic at this theatre and Grand Hotel at Southwark. The music is lush but some of the lyrics are straight out of the moon/June school. ‘You and me/Were meant to be’ warbles Grazia at one point. Feeble.

That said, More And Nore is a powerful duet between the illicit lovers, the strongest number of the night. I also liked Losing Roberto, the lament for her dead son by the Duchess Lamberti (Kathryn Akin) and the sweet duet, December Time, from the hitherto Dotty Evangelina (Gay Soper) and the dull doctor, Dario (Anthony Cable). i

It’s easy, too, to praise leading man Chris Peluso, saddled with the well-nigh impossible task of making death even remotely believable. And he has by some little way the best voice on stage. I was less persuaded by Zoë Doano’s somewhat shrill soprano.

 Until 4 March at Charing Cross Theatre, London WC2: 08444-930650, 

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