MargueritePosted on: 10 June 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
Laurence Green reviews the new musical from the creators of Les Miserables.
Tragic passion, doomed love and wartime romance enveloped in a sweeping score make for a heady brew in the new West End musical Marguerite, at Theatre Royal Haymarket, which draws inspiration from one of the greatest romantic novels La Dame Aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas.
Marguerite is the beautiful and notorious mistress of Otto, a high rankling German officer, with whom she enjoys the high life, in occupied Paris. She averts her eyes from the unpleasant realities of the time - the roundup of Jews and torture of 'dissidents' - and basks in the adoration of her collaborating friends.
At her 40th birthday party she meets and falls in love with a young Jazz pianist Armand who is involved with the Resistance. When Marguerite's affair with Armand is discovered she faces a tricky problem - whether to renounce Armand and go back to Otto or follow her heart's desire even if it means that Armand's sister will face torture.
This is a slickly staged musical from the creative team behind Les Miserables, notably Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg who here have teamed up with triple Oscar winning music writer Michel Legrand and lyricist Herbert Kretzmer.
To be frank although the music is good and serves to heighten the emotional mood of the drama there are no memorable tunes.
What is quite brave here - particularly as most of the creative team are French - is that it paints such a black picture of the French collaborationist bourgeoisie, immersed in their hedonistic lifestyles and indifferent to the suffering around them.
The atmospheric evocation of grand Paris rooms with silver-framed, mirrored windows create a strong sense of conviction, while the swift scene changes keep the plot moving at a fast pace.
Director Jonathan Kent extracts a powerful central performance from Ruthie Henshall in the title role - her transformation from haughty, unsympathetic mistress of a Wehrmacht officer to a broken, forlorn individual who faces the shame of having her head shaved as a collaborator, is both poignant and moving. She receives strong support from Julian Ovenden as the penniless young pianist Armand, who falls obsessively in love with her, Annelene Beechey as his engaging sister, Annette, and Alexander Hanson in the unenviable role of Otto, a man prepared to use every means at his disposal to win back Marguerite.
In all then a thought-provoking and, for the most part, absorbing evening in the theatre.
Plays until 1st November 2008.
Box office: 0845 481 1870 or: www.marguerite-themusical.com
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