Julian Eaves reviews Jack Sain's musical The Green Fairy starring Julie Atherton now playing at the Union Theatre, London.
The Green Fairy
4th November 2019
This new musical play is promoting itself with established musical theatre actress Julie Atherton at the top of the bill, and with good reason: this is a big part for her, playing a drunkard mother, Jo, looking back over her life with a turbulent mixture of emotions, including humour (Jo: I'm not an alcoholic. (Pause) I'm a drunk. – What's the difference? Jo: An alcoholic goes to meetings.') Atherton is a safe pair of hands to make the best of the part and she puts everything into it she can.
There are some good songs, too. Jack Sain (director, author of book and lyrics and composer of the music – and, audiences will likely conclude from the lack of any other credit in the programme, choreographer, to boot) does have a pleasing talent for writing catchy and engaging pop songs. In many ways, the longer the show goes on, the more the audience wants to see these foregrounded: the setting (by Katharine Heath, along with the spot-on costumes), is a bright, airy pub, with its bar centre-stage, much in the manner of ‘Once', and in many ways this show is cast in that work's imagine, covering much of the same emotional territory in a fairly ordinary working-class situation, and we soon find ourselves yearning for the same rowdy pub atmosphere of that other show. Simon Devenport is credited with ‘sound design', but I sorely felt the absence of microphones at this boozer: if there was ever a show that positively screamed out for a belting karaoke ambience, then this is it. I think amplification here would show Sain's writing to its best possible advantage.
As things are, although his credits are impressive, I think he may have taken on a little bit too much of a burden in his first musical, and other, possibly more experienced and trusted eyes and ears might have helped to make this a better debut experience. The rest of the cast, therefore, are left to struggle with a script that is a fair few notches lower in quality: the book lacks the quirky freshness and bite of the best of the songs and is virtually totally devoid of the score's intermittent but palpable flashes of heartfelt warmth. Some of the responsibility for this may lie with associate director and dramaturg, Hannah Hauer-King. Meanwhile, William Bullivant's musical direction, while competent, seems stymied by the almost exclusively acoustic palette of piano, cello, guitar, mandolin and saxophone, admonished with just a soupcon of electric bass. I'm sorry, but this ‘unplugged' feel to the show does nothing to help me feel its rock'n'roll, devil-may-care ethos.
Thus, Emma Whittaker, as ‘Young Jo' (who gets a lovely opening song, and then vanishes from the script for far too long!), David Perkins' warm voiced Daniel and Harry F Brown's more intense barkeeper Toby, as well as Emma Kinney's clarion-voiced soprano Wendy, all sound just a bit too well-behaved and middle-class for what they're asked to sing. Closer to the mark comes the terrifically energetic turn of Georgina Hellier in the title role – a kind of supernatural entity meets former best friend turned Hollywood star (please try to keep up). But, you know, sometimes less is definitely more, and I can only wish that one day they just get this show back to its poppy roots and let it live and breathe the life IT wants, sending the current rather stiff and chilly ‘concept' to take a hike. Then, perhaps, more people will hear and applaud the score's manifold strengths and not still be talking about Alex Lewer's gorgeous lighting long after they've got home!
Until 23 November 2019BOOK TICKETS FOR THE GREEN FAIRY