No, don't look at me ....

Donmar review by Sabine Frenz

24 September, Donmar Warehouse, just before the show

Anticipation. Excitement. Nervousness. Curiosity. Hope.

*...oh, it's different, that's all I say...*
*...well, it's - different...*
*...I didn't like it...*
*...It's good, quite good...*
*...boy, are you in for a treat...*
*'s not like anything he's done before...*
*'s different...*

24 September, Donmar Warehouse, interval

Mouth wide open...can anybody please tell me what kind of tornado has just swept over me?

24 September, Donmar Warehouse, after the show

*...well, it's different...*

Amazement. Utter amazement. Helplessness. Overload.

"Well, how did you like it?"
"I think it's - I - I - it's -"
"Yeah and - "
"But you liked it?"

An emphatic nod of the head is all I manage.

So, what has happened?

A roller-coaster. A kaleidoscope. Love. Humorous. Funny. Delicious. Loss. Pain. Hurt. Heart-wrenching. Heart-breaking. Sad. Cynical. Mad. Desperate. Tender. Painful. Emotional. Revealing. Terror. Insane. Bitter. Sinister. Frightening. Accusatory?

With the first note of "Don't look at me" and "Anyone can whistle" the mood is set. This is not going to be a casual look at the "luvvely-juvvely" life of a performer, this is going to delve deep and be rough. "It's a journey through a person's life" - the only words spoken to the audience.

No spectacular outfit: jeans, untucked white shirt, dark jacket.

On stage: a piano played by Jason Carr at the right back; a bottle of water and a towel at the left back. No props whatsoever.

The staging is superb. The front, the sides, the back, everything is used.

Things to remember?

Act 1

"Little pal" sung kneeling on one knee - a father's projection of wishes and hopes on his child.

The lighting for "Mother/Father" with Michael in the middle of the stage and two spotlights at the front to his left and right, they are subsequently turned off.

The lighting on "The man that got away", Michael leaves the centre spotlight after the previous song to stand at the left back of the stage in the semi-dark and as the song progresses, the centre spotlight is shut down and a smaller spotlight appears at the right front. The man's getting even further away. Superb.

The "I've got no strings - I'm free" (Pinocchio?), which made parts of the audience laugh, although looking at Michael's facial expression during that I found it so cynical that it would have made me choke on my laughter. This comes after "Mother/Father" and their death.

The "Stairway to paradise" which on my second night had the dramatic part of the chorus accompanied by clapping from people in my corner of the auditorium. Oh, please.

The final "day" from "Stairway to paradise" which is a note going from the silent bottom to the maddening forte height. Insane.

The performance of "Say a little prayer", a seemingly idealistic beginning which turns into a more aggressive, distorted, ambiguous ending with a change in piano accompaniment and style of singing only.

The complete change of atmosphere with "Happy talk" and the great lines "if you don't have a dream, how are you gonna have a dream come true" and the "rippling" things (very subtle use of the water bottle...) between a boy and a girl.

Living for the here and now with "The best moment is now".

The extremely cynical "Is that all there is" following immediately after, which poignantly ends with the extinguished, finished cigarette

"There's no business like showbusiness" - Michael's interpretation and presentation completely changing my previous perception of the song.

Act 2

The reappearance with a bow tie and a clamped (?) jacket to deliver a monster medley with dazzling speed and changing of songs and brilliant lighting in red, blue and white. Timing in this is down to the movement of the little finger. His delivery sometimes seems deliberately over the top, there are unusual phrasings and twinkles in notes (or I am getting it completely wrong).

The desolation after the darkness the stage is plunged in after the medley, the bow tie disappears to lead into "In my solitude/Nice dream". The lighting is back to the single white spotlight on Michael sitting on stage.

The wonderfully overflowing finding of love in "She touched me" and the even more delicious song following it with hair curling and the cloud that he wants to "grab a bite" of.

"I wish I could forget you" leading into the changing of that love into desperation in "What now my love", ending in a heartbreaking, pitiful, dissonant, agonising note like a   wail.

"Life on Mars" - though I have problems as to why that song at that stage - and what the lyrics are about in the first place. Life goes on? Life is a show? It was a movie? Focus on something else after a broken down love?

Jason Carr's very baroque sounding interlude with Michael sitting at the left back of the stage, incredibly still, then beginning a-capella singing.

The warm white light for "To live in light", which features "...feels almost right, don't call it love yet, just call it light..." - a possible coming to terms with it? A positive note at the end?

The theatre lights in the auditorium going up before Michael starts to sing "After the ball" a-capella.

Other things to remember?

The sound. Friends have told me that Michael has a microphone close to his right ear - hearing him though it didn't sound like it. When he turned away from us to the other side I couldn't hear him as well and vice versa.

The lighting. Superb. From pale white to warm white. From red to blue to white. Plus the effects for "Mother/Father" and "The man that got away".

The pianist Jason Carr. Fabulous.

The seeming ease of the performance, it looked so easy though I'm sure it must be a tremendous strain and effort.

The performer. With the songs, the story, the lyrics, the acting, the singing (some great crescendos in there), the pronunciation (no significant amplification and I could still get the words), the emotions, the hurt. The transitions from happy to desolate. Sometimes sinister. Sometimes uncomfortable. A brilliant performance - but frightening as well.

Did I enjoy it? Did I ever. Yes!

Did I understand everything? No. Things keep going around in my head, it's something to chew on. I don't know how long it has taken to put it together, but I imagine so much thought must have gone into it, I wouldn't dare say of myself that everything's crystal clear after two performances. I keep asking myself: Why? Why that song? Why in that order, what's the thread? What's the poignancy in it? The underlying meaning?

It's challenging. It's dark. It's diverse. It's powerful. It's painful. It's thought-provoking. It's captivating. It's demanding. For everyone.

04/09/2004 14:32

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