Thursday, 30 July 2009

Joseph & His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - Richmond Theatre

Joseph & his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Music: Andrew Lloyd-Webber
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Director: Bill Kenwright
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree

Another magnificent Bill Kenwright show with a monumental set by Sean Cavanagh. Opening with a curtain depicting hieroglyphs this rises to reveal the land of Canaan which transforms into a dungeon, Pharoah’s palace and back again to Canaan via Paris. The large chorus of children are thoughtfully seated on stairs at each side of the stage so that they can both see and be seen, very important for the families and friends who comprise a large part of the audience. All the members of the cast run and dance up and down these steps throughout, with not the hint of a hand rail in sight.

The plot stays more or less faithful to the Book, justly simplifying the ending although the very title departs from the original. The actual cause of all the jealousy was a coat which simply had sleeves, presumably enough to cause sibling envy in its day. Anyone taking a young child to the show would be well advised to explain the story in advance. One young person was so distressed at the nastiness of the eleven brothers she was very reluctant to see Act II despite assurances that “it all comes right in the end”. Some of the Egyptian god costumes are a bit scary, too, not to mention the enormous talking sphinx with its glowing red eyes. The coat, of course, is almost the star of the show and every opportunity is taken to display its magnificence.

Henry Metcalfe not only plays the aged Jacob and Potiphar but is also the choreographer. The dancing is truly magnificent especially that of the brothers, even the portly one (possibly Levi) leaping about in the Ho-down scene like something out of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”.

The music, of course, was very loud and the over-amplification may have been responsible for the occasional shrillness of the narrator and ironically rendered Pharoah’s words largely unintelligible. On the other hand Craig Chalmers’ Joseph was very clear. Good looking and charming, he was understandably his father’s favourite. He stood up well against the wiles of Mrs Potiphar and her flapper handmaidens, as any well brought up lad should.

The lighting is by Mark Howett played a large part in this elaborate production, giving us blistering heat, mysterious temples and prison bars with beams shining down from the edge of each stair.
Originally written in the sixties as a pop cantata for school production it would be a challenge for any amateur group to follow this one with its basso profundo camel, inflatable sheep and goat on wheels, whose dismemberment goes largely unexplained. However it might be possible to use Elaine Peake’s quite excellent programme notes (copyright John Goad).
Unfortunately the evening comes to a sticky end for some as after finale the reprises went on and on and on. Ever heard the adage “Always leave them wanting more”? So if you have a bus to catch sit at the end of a row and leave after the “happily ever after bit”.

Joseph runs at the Richmond Theatre until Sat 1st August
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