Pros: A strong cast with fine singing and acting, and excellent piano accompaniment.
Cons: A story that ultimately doesn’t have a strong message.
The Mistress Cycle is part of the Page to Stage season, a festival of new musical theatre, at the Landor Theatre in Clapham. The festival is presenting a varied programme of musicals and aims to inspire discussion about musical theatre both nationally and internationally. The Mistress Cycle is described by its author Beth Blatt as a ‘song- cycle- plus’. The show is produced by Aria Entertainment and has a strong all female cast and an excellent creative team behind it. There are great performances from all the cast with accomplished singing and a lovely piano accompaniment from Musical Director Caroline Humphries.
The story centres on Tess, a 30-something photographer from New York, who bemoans her lot in terms of relationships with men. Her career is a success but her main pre-occupation is that she can’t get a boyfriend. She has a heartfelt number where she describes her dating experiences as “death by a thousand cuts”. The story hinges around her being faced with the dilemma of accepting a date with a married man, which leads her to contemplate what it would be like to accept the role of a mistress or as it is described here as, “anyone who comes second”.
The story opens with Tess wandering through an exhibition of paintings called The Other Woman, portraits of mistresses through the ages. This is nicely staged by having the women standing behind giant frames and as each is lit up in turn they begin to tell their stories. It has a feel of A Christmas Carol as the ghosts of the mistresses appear before her, telling her of their fate. One of the most moving stories is that of Ching, played with poignancy by Maria Lawson. The 14-year old Chinese concubine describes the hardship of her life, being sexually exploited by a man her parents have sold her to, although I personally didn’t really feel that this position was that of a mistress. We are also visited by the mistress of Henry II of France, the Madame of a New Orleans Brothel and Anais Nin, the writer renowned for her sexual exploits. Meanwhile Tess is dealing with her own decision in light of what the mistresses have told her. After an intriguing and stylish opening the ending rather fizzles out, without any major turning point.
The strength of the show is definitely in the five actresses who provided fine acting and singing. Caroline Deverill brings a world weary, Sex and the City feel to her character, which does provide some comedy but also makes you wish she would spend more time feeling happy about her budding career. The staging of the play did at times become quite complex as the characters came and went, telling their stories in different episodes. The Landor Theatre has a small stage and with five actresses not only moving around but also at times heaving large boxes about to rearrange the set, and pulling sheets over tables to create beds and coffins, it was at times overly busy on stage.
The main weakness of show however remains the storyline. The lives of these women are described perfectly adequately and they are interesting, but apart from that, the piece doesn’t seem to have anything coherent to say about its subject matter. I was left feeling frustrated by the lack of direction and confused as to what the point of it was.
Author: Beth Blatt
Director: Bronagh Lagan
Producer: Katy Lipson
Music: Jenny Giering
Musical Director: Caroline Humphris
Set and Costume Designer: Eda Giray
Booking until: Sunday 9th March
Booking Link: http://www.landortheatre.co.uk/index.php/booking-office/