Tory Ross, Miles Western, Fabian Hartwell, Bart Williams, Catherine Millsom
In 1989, Richard Curtis penned a film called The Tall Guy, in which Jeff Goldblum played an American actor taking the lead in Elephant!, a Lloyd Webber-type musical about the Elephant Man. The joke being, of course, that even Lloyd Webber wouldnt be so crass as to write a musical on such a serious subject.
Scroll forward a couple of decades, however, and the thought seems positively tame: with London having recently played host to singing extravaganzas on everything from the Holocaust to the Plague to the War on Terror, deciding to turn a film about serial killers into a song and dance show doesn’t seem like such a way out idea.
The question is: is it a good one?
A revival of a show originally produced for the New York Fringe, Peter Bull and Victoria Langs production of Silence! (the unauthorised parody of The Silence of the Lambs) is certainly not for everyone though if your playlist includes songs called If I Could Smell her C*** and Id F*** Me youre clearly not aiming at the Legally Blonde crowd anyway. But it is a lot of filthy fun.
Broadway stalwart Tory Ross is hilariously deadpan as Clarice, all over-pronounced accent and ugly clothes, with Olivier winner Miles Western turning in a suitably malevolent performance as Lecter.
Other standouts are Fabian Hartwell as a brilliantly bonkers Buffalo Bill and Catherine Millsom as his fat and feisty victim. Designers Scott Pask, David Kaley and Prav Menon-Johansson are to be congratulated on a slick, sparse set that works well in the cosy confines of the Above the Stag theatre, and clever costumes; Silence! is full of great touches, from Lecters wheel-in cage to the simple but effective Lambs costumes.
But there are issues. Jon and Al Kaplans songs are funny but forgettable despite the memorable titles, there wont be a tune you remember once youve left the theatre and while the chorus of Lambs raise a laugh every time you see them, some of the cast struggle to project even in such a small space.
Hunter Bells script could do with trimming theres too long between songs and even such a short play starts to sag, and some of the characters feel superfluous. In fact, I think as a whole the play would benefit from judicious trimming, ditching a couple of songs, and getting down from its current two hours with interval to 90 minutes straight through, as these kinds of shows tend to work better if they dont give you time to think too much.
Director/choreographer Christopher Gattelli is better at the latter than the former Clarice and Lecters tango with plexiglass, for instance, is an inspired thing of demented joy, but the performances could sometimes do with reigning in. Its always nice to see people have a good time on stage but the cast too often come across like theyre struggling to contain their mirth, and the sense of smug “ooh, arent we being shocking?” gives the whole thing the air of a sixth form skit which wears a little as the play goes on.
But these are small quibbles in what is, overall, an enjoyable experience. If youre not easily offended and you want an irreverent and undemanding night out, give Silence! a go youre unlikely to see a more original musical this year. Unless they really do decide to make that one about the Elephant Man.