In Drury Lane to see the new production of "Gone with the Wind", which is still in preview, with the press night next week.
Most people have seen the film of Margaret Mitchell's American Civil War story, with scheming Scarlett O'Hara and philandering Rhett Butler played this time by Jill Paice and Darius Danesh,
The largish 1960s New London Theatre in Drury Lane used to be the home to the musical Cats and maybe could do with a southern states makeover on the way in to the show.
The iconic Selznick film was around three and a half hours and this musical production is of a similar length. The cast of around 35 people work their way through more or less the same story as in the film, but with the supplement of around 10-15 two to three minute musical numbers. This creates a significant logistical challenge; how to tell the full story whilst simultaneously incorporating the musical numbers. One approach is to tell the story quite fast and in some cases bridge parts of it with spoken commentary. They do this frequently, although one gets the impression that there has already been some fairly heavy pruning to get the length to 3h30.
I believe Trevor Nunn has directed this production, and I have a few suggestions to turn a moderate show into a very strong one.
1) Revisit the musical score. Try to put a theme or two which run though the length of the production. Give the audience something to take away. There needs to be a couple of memorable hooks.
2) Adapt the way that the music is played. Its quite syrupy in places, with more musical parts than really makes sense. Some of the 'slave' numbers could sound better acapella. The harp used in the Irish number is okay, but don't then incorporate it into every other number. Make more use of the southern states instruments like the banjo instead of creating a sort of light orchestral musical soundtrack. Use the piano, the guitar more - for example, the harmonica works well in a few places. More on-stage instruments would also be better.
3) Get rid of the superfluous narrative "she walked back to the house" whilst she walks back to the house and similar. People around me were fidgeting during some of these pieces.
4) Find some further pieces to cut out. Its really too long at the moment and another 20 or even 30 minutes shaved off wouldn't do any harm. If necessary drop some storyline instead of cramming everything with high speed speech. Decide which of the scenes and set pieces really add something. The revolving bed birth scene can go for starters. What does the little boy with the Oliver wig do in the show?
5) If needed use the overhead flag as a media projection area to tell some pieces with pictures or short video. Trust me it would work better.
6) Take careful stock of some of the more awkward sections, like when the woman is dying in bed but then unpredictably breaks into a song. I cringed and the people behind me burst out laughing and I'm sure that wasn't the intended effect. This ain't la Traviata: 'Gran Dio! morir si giovane '.
7) Character empathy is difficult when so much is crammed into the available time. I don't think 'Ashley' cut a very sympathetic character, yet would be a pivotal part of the original book and film.
8) Recognise that some of the lines from the film are 'classic quotes' and play them well. I could sense the audience flinch when one of the famous lines was more or less thrown away by Scarlett.
9) A little gentle humour would help. Make one of the guys waving the flag a comic figure. There are already plenty of bland heros and it gives the audience a point of identification.
10) The slaves really blasted out their numbers well. A couple more spots from them creates a counterpoint to the other songs. They could still be singing part of the story, but it could work better and be a way to précis a bigger piece of the action. Sharpen the points of view within the Tara household.
Why so many suggestions?
I suppose I want to try to stay positive and constructive. The actors in this seemed to be trying to deliver a good performance, but are hampered by the production. Its a great shame because this is a bold show to attempt and has the potential to be a runner if it is done right.
At the moment it gives the impression that it still needs more work on the production and so I hope Trevor 'les miz' Nunn and a helper or too are thinking strongly about how to get this into good shape and not simply by more marching on the spot with flags or running in circles over bodies. They're both in Trev's French musical.
The ending of the show stays linked with that of the film, although it was disconcerting to see a few rude people leaving 'a la soccer match' before the final goal, so to speak. I gather they lose around 100 during the interval, but I suppose we really need a trend analysis to see which way this is heading.
I'm told by my rational accomplices that the pre-end departures were a consequence of people not wanting to miss 'last trains home' although I suppose this could also affect the mid-week audience attendance.
Being a Friday, we just decided to move on to the nearby Rock Garden for the next stage of our evening. Last trains? Pah!
The critics get to see this next week. I hope they don't just go for the headline clichés about 'Frankly, I don't give a damn' (already on all of the tee-shirts on sale) although at the moment the show teeters between a strong idea and something still in need of more musical and production work.