The Landor Theatre in Clapham has the coup of presenting the European première of the off-Broadway musical The Glorious Ones. Set in 17th-century Italy, in the world of Commedia dell’Arte, it celebrates theatrical collaborations. Such affirmation seems appropriate: written and composed by award-winning team Ahrens and Flaherty, of Ragtime fame, the show reunites Landor dream team director Robert McWhir and designers Martin Thomas and Howard Hudson.
The conceit underlying The Glorious Ones is the satisfying fantasy that the actors are as interesting offstage as they are on it. In a stirring opening number we are told that their “lives are like a play within a play”. Flaminio Scala is the man in charge – a pied piper of performers, gathering an ensemble together as much for their personality as their ability. A famous pioneer in the history of Commedia dell’Arte, Scala’s passion is improvisation, and this is the key to his comedy.
Naturally improvisation in a musical is tricky but the cast is admirably fresh and McWhir has succeeded in creating a sense of camaraderie appropriate to a travelling company, aided by the Landor’s intimacy and Martin Thomas’ cleverly designed set. Mike Christie gives a sterling performance as Scala, joined by Peter Straker as Pantalone in fine comic form, and there are excellent turns from Jodie Beth Meyer and Kate Brennan.
The miniature performances of Commedia dell’Arte performed by the group are never quite as thrilling as the musical moments. And a challenge to change the art form from one of improvisation to scripted works – embodied in the conflict between Scala and his protégés – struggles to ignite the imagination. But there are more than enough songs and strong performances to allow The Glorious Ones to live up to its title – praise for the show should be plentiful in every sense.
Until 7 April 2012
Photo by Mitzide Margary
Written 13 March 2012 for The London Magazine