This is the second stab at musical theatre that the ENO have made recently. Earlier in the year they brought their successful staging of On The Town back to the Coliseum for a second London run. It’s just a shame they didn’t stop there, on a relative high, because this woeful new production of the 1953 musical by Robert Wright and George Forrest, wastes both their skills and the audience’s time.
Kismet is set in medieval Baghdad and follows the fate of a beggar poet who conspires with the Wazir’s wife Lalume to become an Emir. High jinks ensue. Or at least they’re supposed to. The problem here is that the whole piece feels distinctly old fashioned, the musical has not held up well at all. The story is paper thin and the best known numbers, such as Baubles, Bangles and Beads and Stranger in Paradise are trotted through in a trite and conventional fashion.
What’s more there was a distinct air of chaos on stage, almost as if some of the cast members were not quite sure where they should be at any given time. Even more problematically, all too often the singers and orchestra appeared to be at war with one another, leading to all sense of lyrical quality getting lost. Anyone unfamiliar with this piece will be hard pressed to guess what’s going on.
However there is one saving grace, in a production that feels hopelessly amateurish throughout, and that is the presence of Michael Ball. He has an easy charm and an energy and professionalism that are completely lacking elsewhere. He proves himself a versatile performer, capable of taking on any part a making it his own. He is clearly relishing the challenge of the role, but when he is off-stage the piece just falls apart. Faith Prince is an excellent performer, but is not given nearly enough to do, and Sarah Tynan and Alfie Boe do not bring any energy or chemistry to their parts as the young lovers.
The entire thing feels under-rehearsed and ill thought through, which is a shame as this had all the makings of a great musical event. Though Javier de Frutos left the production last week citing ‘professional differences’ you can still see evidence of his work in the disjointed dance numbers. While many raved about his choreography in Rufus Norris’ production of Cabaret, both then, and now, I found his particular approach disorganized and distracting; completely at odds with the atmosphere and the narrative action. Furthermore, the dancers felt very restricted as the huge sets made it hard for the cast to get on and off the stage.
This feels very much like an opportunity lost and, with the ENO at the Coliseum charging up to 83 for seats, this is going to be a very tough ticket to sell even with such a limited run. While the ENO need to be applauded for taking on these challenges, they are going to need to put much more thought (and rehearsal time) in if they want to pull it off.