Saturday, 11 August 2012

Ghost, Piccadilly Theatre, 10/08/12 (evening)

I had been desperate to see Ghost for quite some time after hearing about the brilliance of the Original London Cast featuring Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy (who have since transferred to the Broadway production) and the general air of positivity - ironically - that seemed to surround the show. And I was not disappointed. The score was beautiful beyond belief (with one bizarre exception) and there were some truly amazing "wow" moments that left me gawping in disbelief and in a state of wonder long after leaving the theatre. It is beyond tragic however, that both the London and Broadway productions will have closed in a couple of months' time; for I found the show a joy to watch and listen to, and I would have considered returning.

I was concerned whether Mark Evans and Siobhan Dillon would live up to the hype that surrounded their predecessors before the show but in reality I needn't have worried at all. Having played the roles for well over six months now I could tell they were clearly settled in together and I felt, despite being in the Grand Circle, that their chemistry and body language was completely believable. The one criticism I'd have of their relationship is through no fault of their own. Sam's death occurs quite soon after the show has started and so we don't know the characters particularly well by the time this happens; perhaps a slightly wider picture of their relationship and background (e.g. family/origin) could have been built up in an ideal world. That said, the very touching and perfectly delivered combination of Here Right Now and Three Little Words did pull on the right heart-strings and show Sam and Molly's love for what it really was.

I thought Mark had a great stage presence about him and his interpretation of Sam was sensible and easy to sympathise with. He managed with ease the potentially difficult ideal of portraying someone on stage in who isn't actually 'there' - I wondered beforehand if I would find this slightly irritating but Mark as Sam always added to the scene whenever he was on stage and his presence was never a distraction. I'd heard him sing a fair bit before and so knew what to expect: his vocals were crystal clear and I thought this role allowed him to show off his range a bit more. His voice blended fantastically with Siobhan and Andrew Langtree as Carl in the wonderful numbers that conclude the first Act, Suspend My Disbelief and I Had A Life. He was also able to show his voice off in the solos of Unchained Melody and I Can't Breathe but these are both fairly short numbers and I was left wanting to hear more - this I suppose isn't a bad thing!

I knew there were many powerful ballads in the show and I couldn't wait to hear what Siobhan as Molly did with them. Quite frankly, I was blown away by her vocal more than anyone else's, and that was right from the first note in Here Right Now which was probably one of my favourite numbers in the show. With You made me well up and the chorus was strangely extremely catchy (as I found out on the journey home), whilst Nothing Stops Another Day was less of a moving number but equally as impressive. I felt that her devastation during and after Sam's death was not forced at all and I was touched by her grieving; she brought across how strong the love between her and Sam was very well just on her own, let alone when they were on stage together. Overall, I was very impressed and loved her take on the role.

Now on to the show-stopper - step forward Sharon D. Clarke! I'd heard just how good she was as (initially) phoney psychic Oda Mae Brown but you have to see it to believe it. Yes, she is effectively a well played-upon stereotype but she got endless laughs and rightly so. Her comic timing was perfect and she delivered every one of her lines effortlessly. She can't half sing a bit too: the penultimate number of the show I'm Outta Here is when she really comes alive and you could tell she was in her element whilst belting out notes us mortals can only dream of. Her interaction with Mark was brilliant; in particular, their scene in the bank towards the end of Act two was hilarious and a particular piece of dialogue that sticks out, next to the wonderful "enter my body, Sam" scene which, if you've scene the show, you'll know what I mean instantly. I found the fact she swept aside all the ghosts waiting for her 'wisdom' for Sam as soon as he returned to see her in Act 2 particularly touching and showed a heartfelt side to an otherwise fairly carefree character that was surely made for Sharon. She provided fantastic comic relief where necessary and a perfect foil for Sam and Molly.

Resident bad-guy Carl Bruner is played by Andrew Langtree. Knowing the rough story of Ghost before seeing the show but not having seen the film, I suspected that there was something dodgy about him right from the off, and the fact he was a self-centred, dishonest and unlikeable character is probably a testament to how well Andrew played him accordingly. I particularly enjoyed his Life Turns On A Dime when he makes his ill-fated move on Molly; he sang very sensitively and in a well-measured manner, and as mentioned previously, fitted in very well in the bigger numbers with the other principals.

As for the other named parts, I was very impressed with understudy Jez Uniwn who made a very convincing and menacing Willie Lopez; another actor who made his character instantly unlikeable by means of physical actions and body language, not just words; with Sam's death scene and the two or three times when he was alone in his apartment as prime examples. Lisa Davina Phillip and Jenny Fitzpatrick as Clara and Louise respectively both have excellent voices and complement Oda Mae very well in Are You A Believer? Craig Stein was a fantastically loud and threatening Subway Ghost and he performed Focus brilliantly, a number I actually really enjoyed and a song that actually carries a heartening moral message! Ashley Knight did nothing wrong as the Hospital Ghost but I thought his part was poorly written and the song Ball of Wax a complete joke to be honest. It's completely out of keeping with the rest of the show and surely the point of it could be explained by a couple of lines of dialogue, in my opinion. The rest of the ensemble are mainly restricted to roles in the background and as dancers in breaks for scenery changes. They all did their jobs well but I felt some of the choreography was a bit cringe-worthy, out of sync and occasionally a little needless. I know the actors can only work with what they are given, though, and ensemble roles do often have to be fleshed out somewhat.

That said, the special effects were mind-blowing. How on earth they did some of the things I saw on the stage - I will probably have to take to the grave with me! I won't spoil it completely with too much detail but the various body merges and duplicates that just 'appeared' on stage; next to the flying and moving on the subway and supposedly, into hell, were unbelievable. The lighting was sublime and the animations well placed on the big screen, and I didn't think they were over-used at all. In fact, I'm sure the lighting was probably key to the majority of the on-stage illusions due to the constant reliance on light and shade splitting the stage - so fair play to the lighting team and designers for a fantastic job well done. It certainly left a lasting impression, and I should mention also the gut-wrenchingly sad final scenes, which did the same. Tearful stuff and beautifully acted by Mark, Siobhan and Sharon.

It was a show that lived up to my high expectations and I'm so glad that I got to see it. It was a real rollercoaster ride of emotions and I felt slightly drained after leaving the theatre, if only because of the wonderfully intense performances and the touching score. Like I said at the start, it is a real shame that this show is closing; especially when it is being replaced by the Spice Girls' Viva Forever world premiere which, although you can't judge until you've seen it, I certainly won't be rushing to. Unlike Ghost, which I most certainly would, given the chance.

At this performance, the cast was:
Mark Evans (Sam Wheat), Siobhan Dillon (Molly Jensen), Sharon D. Clarke (Oda Mae Brown), Andrew Langtree (Carl Bruner), Jez Unwin (Willie Lopez), Craig Stein (Subway Ghost), Ashley Knight (Hospital Ghost), Lisa Davina Phillip (Clara), Jenny Fitzpatrick (Louise), Paul Ayres, Darren Carnall, Samuel Edwards, Francesca Hoffman, Louise Lawson, Scott Maurice, Spencer O'Brien, Olivia Phillip, Amy Webb, Sally Whitehead

Also in the cast are Ivan De Freitas, Callum Francis, Jennifer Saayeng, Kirstie Skivington, Spencer Stafford and Rebecca Trehearn.

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