MISS SAIGON - 3 FEBRUARY 2002,MANCHESTER

The UK Tour in Manchester is a stunning production with not one weak cast member from principal to ensemble. I could not fault any member of the cast who all brought out strongly the characters and emotions which make this such a great piece of theatre. The staging is 95% the same as London with only minor changes due to the theatre size. The office where John works comes on from the side and I liked the detail of the staff sorting papers out of filing cabinets as this made the scene more realistic. The hotel truck is about half of the depth and the sofa and chair come on from the sides. The end of the 'This is the hour' and 'Thuy's return' are played in front of the trucks so in the former Thuy is left dead right at the edge of the stage whilst for the latter as the set moves out of the way Chris walks down to stand in between Kim and Thuy for 'I'm getting you out'.

Ima Castro is a fantastic Kim creating a great contrast between the initial innocent Kim and the woman who makes the final decision for all of them. She had excellent chemistry with the Engineer, Chris and Thuy and she had a great voice which ranged from the softness of Sun and moon to the full voice of 'I'd give my life for you' . The last two Kim's I have seen (the other begin Joanna Ampil in London) give new meaning to the line 'while I change for my last performance' as in the Engineer's eyes she is referring to the club but in her mind the final performance is something more dramatic.

Michael Xavier's Chris was very much the young man desperate to escape the memories of Vietnam and his end of 'Why God Why' was excellent as he angrily told 'God' 'and now I leave remembering her, just her', as he would now have to remember Vietnam for the rest of his life when it is a place he would rather forget. Later he brought out the older Chris's confusion very well as those words he sang earlier came back to him as he had to confront his past.

Leo Valdez is a brilliant Engineer with his outward endearingness concealing the continuing ruthlessness in his quest to get to America. Just as you think he may truly care about Kim his words reveal that to him she is no more than a passport 'don't screw with me little bitch, I don't want any hitch'. As he stands in the room at the end he has his back to Kim and Chris holding Tam's face away but as he feels the silence from behind he turns to see Kim and knows he must relinquish the boy and once more be back to square one. He has a boundless energy and perfectly brings over the character of the Engineer and is such a strong character that he is a joy to watch.

Now Kingsley Leggs' John is the best one I have ever seen and I have praised a good number of Johns in the past but he was just fantastic and if I had to pick one performance out of all the leads it would be his. The film shown during Bui Doi is heart rendering enough but to have John pleading with us as he reveals his thoughts on Vietnam, how his thoughts on the war changed once he saw the children and how he had to do something. When he meets Kim again, as much as he wants this to be his 'job', he is emotionally involved in this case as he was there from the start. This is reflected very much in the final scene where as Kim is dying in her room he is outside having sunk to the floor with his hands shaking uncontrollably with grief and disbelief that it has come to this. That the girl he was talking to earlier had just taken her own life. His job was to successfully reunite these children and for his best friend he had failed. What a performance.

Since the change is Thuy's character early on in the London run, in that he was shown to have a more tender side and truly did care for Kim then I have grown to have a soft spot for him. Robert Vicenzio brings the tormented & desperate side of him over excellently. His affection for Kim and desire to rescue her from this life is obvious and as she sings of the memory of her 'husband' Thuy tries to use the moment to display his affection only to be rebuffed. As he says 'you can end all this shame, all you need say is yes' he almost pleads with her but he is quite unprepared for the revelation of her child which changes everything forever. As he and Kim desperately fight to resolve the situation you know as he holds his arms out to Kim as he falls down dying and as she screams and anguished 'No' that this will haunt her forever. Ima sat next to him disbelieving at what she had just done, killed a man she obviously did care about and as she left, his body was left starring lifelessly at the audience. Both Ima and Robert played the 'This is the hour' scene brilliantly, the high running emotion and energy from both of them just filled the theatre.

Ellen is a part which has to work hard to get the audiences sympathy as we have watched Kim's story unfold whilst the only part of Ellen we see is as part of Kim's story. Nicky Adams lets us sympathise with Ellen as he idyllic world is thrown into turmoil. In the scene where she meets Kim as they stare at each other in silence you can feel the tension mounting as both want the same man.

Over the years the sheer emotion in the piece has heightened and for me scenes such as 'The initial Thuy / Chris meeting', the whole 'This is the hour', 'I'd give my life for you, 'Fall of Saigon, Bui Doi and of course the finale bring that lump to your throat and in the case of 'I Still believe' send shivers down your spine.

The ensemble work is excellent adding to scenes as opposed to dressing the set. During 'Why God Why' as Chris rushes outside a man forces his wife / sister on to him with words to the effect 'you have to do it it's the only way out'. The opening scene is filled with so much activity and conveys the grittiness and sleeziness of the bar yet this is contrasted with 'Movie in my mind' where you get to hear the inner feelings of the girls. Gigi is the one bar girl who deserves the most sympathy. She is the head of the bar girls but underneath she is as desperate as any of the girls to get out. And as the girls wish Kim all the best she is resigned that her fate will not be as happy but brings herself out of her melancoly to toast the real 'Miss Saigon'

The fall of Saigon is a great piece of choreography and never fails to impress. The slow motion scene where a marine pushes a man climbing the fence back and as he swings away he gradually falls to the ground is so simple but effective. 'What a waste' looks so natural that you can easily forget you are watching a choreographed scene. The ease with which the main 'tourist' group moves around from one bar to another which not a single person out of place. Tam must get a mention, what amazes me is how well they rehearse the children in that they stand amongst all the shouting, singing and killing without so much as a flinch.

The cast brings alive this heart wrenching story and If you make one trip this year make sure you don't Miss Saigon.

Back to reviews