Union Theatre, London
Music by Dana P. Rowe
Book & lyrics by John Dempsey
Directed & choreographed by Michael Strassen
The timing could hardly be better as Michael Strassen reprises his take on The Fix. With the United States hurtling towards what is likely to be the most fiercely contested Presidential election in decades, John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe's satirical expose of the American political machine is apposite to say the least.
Fra Fee is the naive Cal Chandler - who when his Senator father dies in his mistress' bed is ruthlessly thrust into the race for political power by his scheming mother Violet. While Violet may be the power behind the Chandler throne, pulling the strings is her late husband's brother Grahame, crippled by polio and with an eye on a seat in the judiciary. Oh, and there's been a romantic liaison between Violet and Grahame too - think of Hamlet, Macbeth and The West Wing all hurled into a blender and you start to get close to the Machiavellian machinations of the aspirational Chandler administration.
The acting is fine throughout - and Fee marks the emergent Chandler well, convincing us of the young man's reluctance to have been dragged from his privileged but youthful primrose path, into the glaring scrutiny of public life and politics. There's charming supporting work too from the talented Madalena Alberto as Tina McCoy, a stripper who wins Cal's love, tempting him away from his loveless marriage of convenience.
The show however is driven by the astonishing performances of Lucy Williamson as Violet and Ken Christiansen's Grahame. Williamson's performance is a powerhouse. In a show that is un-mic'd (see below) her performance is one of the few that offers vocal magnificence, with passion and nuance elicited from every syllable.
Christiansen, who only last month was wowing the Union's audiences in Little Voice, yet again nails his character's manipulative duplicity. Flawless in both voice and presence, alongside Williamson, the pair steal every scene they're in.
There is magnificent supporting work too from Peter Saul Blewden and Alastair Hill who between them offer up a range of incidental characters, all crucial to the narrative.
This is the first production at The Union Theatre's new space across the road. The building is a beautiful improvement and Sasha Regan should feel justly proud of what she has achieved. But, the acoustics of the new place need a lot of careful thought as sat in the third row, too much of the show's lyrics proved inaudible. Likewise, when action was played out low down on the Union's floor, it becomes invisible to those of us further back. These are very early teething days for the new venue of course, but in the old place, audiences were barely raked and there was little need for mics. The new space offers much gorgeous opportunity for sure, but it also presents challenges that future producers and directors must learn to overcome.
For the most part, Strassen's direction and choreography are a thrilling fusion of sound and vision, enhanced by Josh Sood’s 4 piece band. Simply staged and with an occasional use of the American flag Strassen cleverly evokes the darker side of USA politics. Viewed from Britain, the 2016 Presidential race sees Donald Trump frequently held out as an almost pantomime villain. The closing scene of The Fix however argues otherwise. There's a strong suggestion, as Strassen places the sensational Williamson behind a lectern, maniacal and eyes-blazing, that Hillary Clinton is the more devious contender.
Runs until 6th August
Photo credit: Darren Bell