The story is easy to follow, the characters clearly defined and the story flows along well but in act 2 it does seem to lose some of the momentum that had built up in act 1. It felt more like a set of tableaux and that some of the sections were rushed through in order to get the story concluded and therefore seemed more superficial.
The opening backcloth of the young Queen Victoria is gradually turned blood red and replaced with the burnt image of an Indian face representative of the turbulent times in the land. 3 circles form the revolve which rise as they turn as one or independently. Flats depicting the walls of the palace, battered and worn, drop down for scene changes (this does become slightly formulaic as cast have to move forward partway through the scene / song to allow the flats to come in). One scene includes a confrontation at the English dinner table and the constant turning of the revolve in that scene detracted rather than enhanced the emotion and would have been more effective if it was kept still. The colouring of the staging is very desert like in colour. The English ladies are dressed in pale colours and therefore the colour comes from the Indian palace, the opulence of which was well created as were the contrast between it and the colonial houses.
The music is pleasant and on further hearing some of the songs will be retained I am sure and stand out. The styles fitted the action appropriately and the cast all performed the music very well and with enthusiasm.
The cast were all very good. Hadley Fraser headed the company as Ashton, the English officer who had spent the first 10 years of his life raised by an Indian maid much to the disgust of his fiancé and the English ‘nobility’. He carried off the handsome heroic leading man very well and has a strong voice for delivering the songs. He had created a strong character for Ash, who was believable through all the emotions Ash went through. He had very good chemistry with Gayatri Iyer as Princess Anjuli and Simon Gleeson as his best friend Walter.
Dianne Pilkington was lovely as Ash’s less than worldly wise fiancé, Belinda, who after initially being horrified about his past realises that she didn’t love him enough for him to truly love her and therefore helps Anjuli and Ash be together. She delivered the songs really well and I would like to hear them again. In act 2 the character felt a little sidelined as the story concluded. Gayatri Iyer possesses a clear, yet soft tinged, voice which is perfect for Anjuli. As the story is told from the perspective of Ash, on the whole, the inner workings of Anjuli’s character is not seen as much but she created a believable character, bringing out the vulnerable and strong sides of Anjuli. Simon Gleeson, in fine voice, was very strong as Walter, who stepped in admirable in Ash’s shoes and proved himself to be a leader. He led the soldiers in a battle cry of ‘Freedom and Honour’.
David Burt, reminding me of Oliver Reed in his younger days, played Harkness on one hand the quintessential English baddie yet at the same time he felt he was doing right for Queen and Country. Still a vile character overall ! The cheer when he got his comeuppance said it all, although this did detract from the emotion of Walter’s death.
Sophiya Haque played the scheming, social climbing at any cost, Janoo Rani - Queen, murderer and traitor seemingly all in the name of love. Strong support also came from Marina Abdeen as Ash’s ‘mother’, Kabir Bedi as Ash and Anjuli’s protector Sahib and Kulvinder Ghir as Janoo Rani’s co-conspirator the Maharana of Bhitor.
Staging wise the final battle in Afghanistan was effectively staged in slow motion but the lead up felt rushed so the impact was lessened. I liked the staging of the past as Ash watched and interacted at times with himself and Anjuli as children. Throughout the story the child Anjuli would appear in his mind to remind him of what had been promised all those years ago, very much like a mirage. The wait of both Ash and Anjuli and the love they have carried since childhood could be made stronger. You feel Anjuli is waiting for a friend rather than someone she loves.
Overall I liked the show, this was only the third preview so some bits will be tightened, streamlined and the emotional impact, particularly the impact of the deaths of characters, should be heightened. There is a need to give an idea of distances between the two locations as it feels as though going from Indian to Afghanistan is just a short walk away.
It is an enjoyable show – strong story line, well defined characters, pleasant music and some nice staging. The story has many emotional elements - love, death, sacrifice and the intensity of those emotions needs to be heightened and I believe this will leave the audience on more of a high at the end. It doesn’t set the stage alight but is not an unworthy addition to the west end.
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