Salisbury Playhouse, Salisbury
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Book by Terence McNally
Directed by Gareth Machin
Directed by Gareth Machin
A Man Of No Importance, drawn from the 1990s film of the same name, is a musical that explores the prejudices of Catholic Ireland in 1964. Alfie, performed by Mark Meadows, is the "man" in question, a bus conductor by trade and an am-dram theatre director as a hobby. His passion for literature is such that he rather endearingly even if a little eccentrically, shares his love of the arts with his regular bus passengers, whilst at the same time grappling with his closeted and virginal homosexuality. His stifled inability to express his sexual inclination has driven him to the works of Oscar Wilde and in a further, but unexplained, change of character has him leading his theatre company into a provocative production of Wilde's Salome, a show widely signalled as likely to prove heretical anathema to the Catholic Church hierarchy under whose auspices his theatre company meet.
This Salisbury Playhouse production is a pot-pourri of prejudices that highlights the Church's and broader Irish society's disapproval not only of homosexuality but also of extra-marital sex and pregnancy outside wedlock. These huge social issues are thrown into the plot in act two with such apparent casualness that they render the musical more of an unsatisfying and unsubtle picket line of protest rather than an occasion of well-crafted entertainment. Ahrens' and Flaherty's hearts and minds are unquestionably in the right place in writing this show, however their (often wonderful) creative talents seem to have wandered off, with this piece lacking the wit and bite that, for example Ragtime, had in abundance.
This is a fragmented story, desperately tragic at times yet with a curiously bolted on happy ending that almost desperately tries to create a final feel-good factor. Ultimately, this is a production whose merits lie in a handful of astonishing moments and performances that are, it should be said, rather special.
In two acts, the first half being too much of a mournful ballad-fest, it is the performances of Fra Fee and Laura Pitt-Pulford that justify the ticket price alone. Fee brings the show to life with The Streets of Dublin, a beautiful song that wonderfully sums up all that is folksy and traditionally Irish about that city. Pitt-Pulford's Adele, a newcomer to the community who finds herself cast as Salome, inspires with both voice and dance and who, after the interval, simply sizzles as the Princess. Robert Maskell as bible-bashing butcher Carney and one of the bad guys of the piece, is delightfully ruddy faced and fulsomely voiced as he sings Books, in a mildly comic number with Alfie's elderly sister who he is wooing.
A Man of No Importance brings some outstanding talent to Salisbury and is to be seen if only for its eclectic curiosity value. A nod of congratulation too to the cast, who all double up as accomplished musicians at different times in the show. Flaws notwithstanding, the appreciative Saturday matinee audience appeared to enjoy the fare on offer, with Fee's good looks in particular, especially what with him being fresh off the Les Mis movie barricades, proving a hit amongst the city's teenage girls!
Runs to May 18 2013