Tuesday, 6 March 2018

REVIEW: Miss Saigon at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton

One of the fantastic developments of recent decades is to see the great West End productions touring to large regional venues with the same high production values and full ensemble casts and orchestras and Miss Saigon is continuing its tour of the 2014 West End revival. The Mayflower stage is one of the largest outside London and is a natural home for three weeks for this spectacular production. 

The set designed by Matt Kinley and Totie Driver evocatively creates the dilapidated structures of Saigon during the Vietnam war and restages the amazing critical scene when the US marine helicopter arrives at the US base to evacuate the last soldiers. A combination of video and a full scale helicopter nose cockpit accompanied with realistic sound effects and flashing lights produces without doubt the highlight of the show.

The lighting design by Bruno Poet is also very distinctive and so strong that it dominates many scenes. The stage is usually dark creating shadows with the set and the performers picked out with small focused spots. It creates atmospheric settings but the lighting is too overwhelming and clever and becomes the many thing you notice in each scene.

The story is a simple love story set against the last days of the US Vietnam war, described by one character as a senseless shambles of a war and focuses on the impact the departing marines leave on the local girls. The second act opens with Bui Doi as former marines reflect on the children born of the solidiers liaisons with those girls. It is dominated by the moving film of the children left behind. The one child we meet Tam, looks charming and sweet but in his various appearances is directed to stand rigidly still or cling emotionless to another character and fails to move the audience.

The music by Claude-Michael Schonberg is based around a repeated musical refrain but only a few songs stand out as memorable but in this production they don't live up to their reputation. "The heat is on" which opens the show is of the time and feels a little dated now with its presentation of scantily clad Asian performers, simulated sex acts and violence. At the other end of the production the supposedly show stopping "American dream", with the sleazy ringmaster The Engineer played by Red Concepcion felt mechanical and routine. In between the love triangles between Kim, Chris and Thuy and then Chris, Kim and Ellen are the focus of many duets and solos. Sooha Kim, Ashley Gilmour, Zoe Doano and Gerald Santos work hard and provide solid performances without ever quite dominating the stage.

This is an acclaimed award winning musical celebrating its 25th plus anniversary and it is great to see it in front of a large sold out regional audience with the full scale of a West End production. It deserves to be supported although it has never ranked in my top ten musical titles and the touring cast are not strong enough to emotionally connect with the audience as the story should.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★
Blog Design Created by pipdig