On the cusp of the 20th century, Anna Edson Taylor hit the headlines as the first woman to descend the Niagara Falls and survive. Trained as a physical education teacher and widowed soon after marriage, she found herself heavily indebted and resorted to the daring deed as a way to escape poverty, with a promise for future fame and recognition.
Already attempted unsuccessfully by several men and women, her ride was negotiated inside a bespoke pickle barrel, made of oak and iron and fitted with cushions to absorb the impact. Its shell bore the ambitious inscription ‘Queen of the Mist’. She performed the feat on the day of her 63rd birthday, surrounded by a mob of curious attendees, attracted by the publicity of her manager Frank M. Russell (Will Arundel).
Those were the years of impressive stunts, fearless daredevils and large crowds gathering around characters like the illusionist Houdini – all eager to see a new show-stopping performance. Sometimes through skill and, more often than not, through sheer luck, these people would receive praise, become national heroes and eventually make money for public speeches and press features. Sadly, though, Anna Edson Taylor’s celebrity was short-lived and never fully enjoyed, her accomplishment promptly replaced in the collective interest with other reckless sensations.
In Michael John LaChiusa’s musical, Annie is depicted as a headstrong woman, firm in her resolution and determined to keep afloat (excuse my pun) despite the lack of support from friends and family. The character is vigorously embodied by Trudi Camilleri, whose astonishing voice pours into the auditorium with the same impetus of the falls themselves.
Conducted by Jordan Li-Smith, the seven-strong orchestra sits in view – with the exception of the keyboard players. Wearing period costumes and enveloped in a warm and dim light, they look like a sepia photograph, placed against one of the Jack Studio’s black walls. Their gentle presence and symphonic melodies now and again clash with the blue lighting and furious roar of the waterfalls, with stunning audio-visual effects.
The whole cast is exceptionally talented and – despite the seemingly unnecessary use of microphones – the sound is clean and pleasant.
During the several ensemble pieces, the intimate stage appears surprisingly spacious, and finely choreographed movements allow bodies and props to shift and evolve seamlessly. In Tara Usher’s economical design, each piece of furniture is devised to slide and lock within the frame of the musicians’ stand, virtually vanishing when not in use.
Once again on this occasion, one of London’s cutest pub theatres proves its ability to provide a blank canvas for prominent productions, morphing and adjusting to accommodate the most diverse performances. Offering a top-notch programme and the warmest welcome, Jack Studio is the perfect field for the Queen of the Mist to finally find her glory.
Words and Music by: Michael John LaChiusa
Directed by: Dominic O’Hanlon
Producer: Pint of Wine Theatre Company
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: https://brockleyjack.co.uk/jackstudio-entry/queen-of-the-mist/
Booking Until: 27 April 2019