Pros: A brand new musical with a philosophical bent; remarkable a cappella singing.
Cons: The story is confusing and the pacing is too slow.
Momo is about time, and how our best efforts to save it paradoxically cause us to lose it. Anyone who has ever owned a Smartphone can attest to this phenomenon.
Momo is adapted from a children’s novel of the same name by the German writer Michael Ende. Like Ende’s most famous work, The Neverending Story, Momo is a philosophical fable, with as much relevance for adults as for children. This adaptation for the stage is the latest offering from Filament Theatre, a company dedicated to creating original musical theatre productions that combine movement and a capella singing.
At the start of the play a little girl called Momo (Luisa Guerreira) arrives in an unnamed town (the story is positioned in neither time nor space). She claims to have come from nowhere, to have no parents, and to be over a hundred years old. We never do get any answers about her origins, but it’s clear that there is something very special about this little ‘gypsy girl’. She quickly becomes very popular in her community for her supernatural ability to listen and in doing so, set right everyone’s problems. But trouble soon comes in the form of the sinister ‘Men in Grey’, suited, cigarette-smoking ciphers who convince everyone to ‘save’ time by doing everything more quickly. Momo’s idyllic town is quickly transformed into a dystopia, where everyone is so obsessed with saving time that they miss out on chatting with friends, daydreaming, and resting, in other words, the simple joys that make life worth living. It’s then up to our heroine to save the day.
It’s an intriguing story, and this production certainly whetted my appetite to read the book. I’m not convinced that that is a successful transition to the stage, however. I wanted to like this show, I really did. When it comes to musical theatre with a philosophical flavour, you would be hard-pressed to find a more sympathetic reviewer than me. Unfortunately, the story is difficult to follow, and, I am sorry but, the show drags and fails to captivate. Guerreira sings with a beautiful, pure voice, but I felt she lacked the charisma needed to command the audience’s attention throughout. Though perhaps the problem is not with Guerreira, but the character of Momo, who, being more of a symbol than a character, lacks personality.
Still, the music is beautiful and expertly sung. The way the performers stay on pitch without instrumentation is hugely impressive. In an interesting touch, Momo often sings in Ladino, an endangered language spoken by Jews of Spanish origin. The cast of eight are joined on stage for two numbers by a local children’s choir, which at the performance I saw, was the choir of St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in East Greenwich. This is both a nice way of involving the local community, and a sure-fire method for filling seats with devoted parents (she thought to herself cynically).
Momo is part of the Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival, which runs from 1 to 19 April, though I must admit it didn’t feel like a children’s show to me. There is plenty of intriguing material here, but it is not yet the enchanting musical it has the potential to be.
Author: Michael Ende, adapted for the stage by Annie Siddons
Director: Sabina Netherclift
Music and Lyrics: Osnat Schmool
Producer: Filament Theatre
Box Office: 020 8858 7755
Booking Link: http://www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk/Booking Until: 5th April 2013