Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Death Takes a Holiday; Dirty Great Love Story

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Death Takes a Holiday; Dirty Great Love Story

Article excerpt

It could be the nuttiest idea ever. The protagonist of this American musical is Death, who secretly reprieves a beautiful Italian princess, Grazia, and spends the weekend at her father's palace where a house party is in full swing. The dad knows the gatecrasher's identity. But Death introduces himself to the others as a suave Russian duke. All the womenfolk promptly fall in love with him, including Grazia, who sets out to bag the mysterious foreigner. Where can this strange plot go next?

Nowhere. Once Grazia learns that Death has come to terminate her existence the story will end. So the script is padded out with additional entanglements between a sprawling crew of sub-personalities. There's a sulking rotter, a glamorous airman, a foxy widow, a sagacious doctor, a needy minx, a waggish footman, a nymphomaniac scullery maid and an amiable dowager in an advanced state of decay. But their complicated affairs are just delaying tactics, and we keep returning to the doomed central pair whose relationship is as stiff and conventional as a pre-arranged fix-up between royal cousins. They take rapturous lakeside strolls. They gaze adoringly into each other's retinas. They embrace at midnight and fill the air with ardent drivel. While she tenderly fondles his shoulder blade he gawps longingly at her throat. Only two lighting conditions are permitted to illuminate their gasping intimacies, the full moon and the setting sun. Then there's a surprise. A sexy American flapper drags Death into the drawing room and tries to seduce him with an upbeat jazz number, but the fun comes to an end and the show settles back into its grand and broody torpor.

It's certainly great to look at. The stylish costumes by Jonathan Lipman are sumptuously done. The principals (Zoë Doano and Chris Peluso) are superb singers, and both are blessed with divine good looks. But the show keeps barking its shins against its own battiness in choosing a non-human protagonist. Why does this matter? Death, at first glance, appears quite a promising dramatic personality compared with other figurative abstractions like, for example, Magnetism, Oral Hygiene or Trigonometry. But try putting any of the last three into a musical and you'll see the problem. And it's unnecessary. The conflict between love and duty might have been channelled through the figure of a Bolshevik assassin who falls for the duchess he's been ordered to liquidate. …

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