Lautrec - 1 April 2000

Lautrec is the musicalisation of the life of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec although it can't be said to be overly informative on his life.

While the show is visually colourful and imaginatively, competently performed and sang it is let down by the book. At the end of the show little more is known about the characters than at the beginning and in effect all we know is that he lived with an ex prostitute and lived the bohemian life with much disapproval from his family. The pride of the family was something drilled into him and even his cousin, Gabriel, despatched to retrieve him from this debauched life ended by staying with one of the 'Moulon Rouge' girls.

The show is elaborately staged with giant curtains moving across the stage for seamless scene changes. Four bridges / swings were lowered down or moved across the stage during the show. Characters travelled down in them, who were positioned about the stage conversing with or commenting on the characters below. One of the most effective scenes was the asylum where we saw what was going on in Henri's mind as he imagined all his friends and family talking about him but they said said what he imagined they were saying. The grandmothers moved across the stage with their' Queen Victoria' garb behind them uttering 'the family' and his friends were on the bridges above him and . The costumes were colourful and if I had to select the most effective I would say the studio ones when all the cast were dressed as though they were an artists easel and the red / black of the gallery. The bar scenes conveyed the type of society Henri lived in but several versions of similar scenes, i.e. Henri been found by Susanne or Gabriel in one of these places did nothing to move the story along. Gabriel's story seemed to peeter put halfway through act 2 and Susanne's mother was never seen again !!

Throughout the show no indication was given of the type of paintings that Lautrec was famous for therefore his connections with the Moulin Rouge and the circus were not known. The significance of the presence of clown and acrobats was therefore lost on me and in one scene there prescence was extremely distracting.

There were good performances from the leads Sevan Stephan (Lautrec), Hannah Waddingham (Susanne), Martin Fisher (Gabriel), Jill Martin (Adele T-L - his mother) and Nigel Williams (Alphonse T-L - his father) and in particular Hannah as Henri's love Susanne Valadon was excellent. She delivered 'Look into my eyes' excellently and deserved the prolonged applause. She created a strong character for Susanne and had the most developed character of all those on stage. The material didn't give the cast an great opportunity to develop their characters which goes back to the book being weak. The 'Moulin Rouge' crowd were played well but the characters were not fleshed out and were reduced to the genre of caricatures.

The music was pleasant and easy on the ear although not memorable. There were some pleasant songs, rousing numbers and two stand outs could be said to be 'Look into my eyes' and 'The child within the man' The score didn't always contemplate the style of the price with some arrangements a little too modern

Lautrec is an easy way to pass an evening. I can't say that the story is engrossing or holds your interest, there is not enough story. By the end of Act 1 Henri has literally met Susanne and that's about it. Lautrec was OK, although considering the reaction of the audience maybe I am in the minority. We'll see next week.

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