Playhouse Theatre, London
Book by Jeffrey Lane
Music and lyrics by David Yazbeck
Directed by Bartlett Sher
|Ricardo Afonso and Tamsin Greig|
Pedro Almodovar's seminal film Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown famously captured the liberated spirit of post-Franco Madrid in a story that celebrated not just the women of the movie’s title but also the Spanish capital itself. The glory of Almodovar's vision however does not translate to the stage. Whilst some of the musical’s acting may be top-notch, its plot creaks and the mania of Madrid's scenic and atmospheric spice that so imbued the movie, is much missed on the Playhouse's cramped stage.
Billed on the posters as equals, Tamsin Greig and Haydn Gwynne are Pepa and Lucia, respectively the lover and long-estranged wife of Ivan and although both actresses are sensational, this is Greig's show. Mastering the comic subtlety of anger, in a potentially Olivier winning turn, Greig alone merits the (discounted) price of a ticket. Lucia meanwhile really has suffered a breakdown since Ivan abandoned her and Gwynne captures the desperate essence of this woman’s manic fragility. Lucia’s number Invisible, a sad self appraisal of the best years of life having passed her by, is exquisite in its heart rending poignancy.
Ricardo Afonso delights as a guitar strumming taxi driver. This coolest of cabbies, (and jonathanbaz.com has consistently raved about Afonso’s genius) commands our gaze and it’s only a shame that the show does not afford his character more airtime. Willemijn Verkaik, surely the eurostar of modern musical theatre, turns in a gamely supporting role as a lawyer with a surprise up her sleeve.
Aside from the ever talented Michael Matus’ many minor roles in the ensemble, that’s it for the excellence. Jerome Pradon fails to convince that his Ivan is the irresistible swordsman the writers intend, whilst Anna Skellern’s Candela struggles to be even a two-dimensional representation of a dumb, panic-stricken model. The desired level of farce does not come easily to this show and its ridiculous sub-plot about a terrorist at large, that would have been a lame thread even before last week’s tragedies in Paris, now just seems awkwardly embarrassing.
There are other pockets of talent to be found. Ellen Kane’s flamenco-flavoured dance work (enhanced by Holly James’ outstanding movement as the Matador) is always a treat to watch and much of Yazbek’s music (including a lovely motif that offers a nod to Carmen’s Habanera) is a delight. But much like Afonso’s taxi driving, the show's lyrics career and lurch alarmingly from wittily tight to utterly trite. Fans of the uber-talented Tamsin Greig and Haydn Gwynne won't be disappointed. Fans of the movie will be.
Now booking until 9th May 2015