Monday, 1 October 2018

REVIEW: 'The Problem with Fletcher Mott' & 'Butterfly lovers' at the Tristan Bates Theatre

The Melange New Musical Theatre Festival is organised by students from the Goldsmith, University of London MA Musical Theatre course and as its name suggests is a mixed collection of four new short works, presented as a double bill each performance. Such an enterprise is to be admired for its effort and creativity from the producers, composers, and artistes and no doubt provides amazing and rewarding learning and the trials and tribulations and joy of staging new work.

Any new musical takes time to develop and audience familiarity with the musical styles and content helps make an immediate impact. Many in the audience were friends and family and had that familiarity and responded enthusiastically to the work. As a reviewer, coming fresh to both pieces it is more difficult.

The black box environment of the Tristan Bates, fifteen minutes to set the stage and I am sure tiny production budgets places additional constraints on the show’s creators. On this first night we were treated to two very different pieces of work.

First up was “the problem with Fletcher Mott”, a light musical comedy written by Jack Miles, who conducted the three piece band of guitar, bass and Cajon. They helpfully provide a song list, and the simple catchy tunes and clear strong vocals with a powerful rhythmic score make the music accessible and enjoyable. It’s fun, frivolous and theatrical and sets the toes tapping.

Whether it is autobiographical or not we are not told but the story is simple Fletcher is a writer working to a deadline and his muse in his head, Boo, is in conflict with his demanding sensationalist agent, Angela. The concept is familiar from a recent radio play I saw “the adventures of Frankie Fightwell” where the author begins to confuse his inner thoughts with reality.

I particularly liked Rose Dickson as Boo, the voice in his head with a strong stage presence, good voice and sharp reactions to the other characters. Fletcher is played by Chris Vince, desperately comical whose wide eyes seemed to engage with the audience as if seeking their approval or inspiration. They are well supported by Lucy Oligvie, Hugh Train and Emma Stepkowski.

I enjoyed the simple choreography in “the Power of the pen” and “the writers
mind” and such rhymes as a cabaret with crème brulee! As Fletcher is told, “not every idea is the best idea you have ever had” and not everything works but the basic idea where he blurs his mind and reality does work and the likeable catchy songs and strong central performances certainly suggest the work has potential.

The second piece, “The Butterfly Lovers” is an extraordinary multicultural collaboration with the producers, composers, band and performers bringing their influences from around the globe to create a new retelling of a tragic Chinese legend about the relationship between the only daughter of a high born family with a young peasant. In many ways it reminded me of the style and content of the “King and I” famous ballet, Small house of Uncle Thomas. 

Lucy Park plays Zhu Yingtai who adopts a male disguise to secure the education her father denies her and meets Jarrod Lee’s Liang Shanbo who she falls in love with while being pursued by a bullying Zhen Maozei (Tao Deng) and his sidekick Ma Chang (Yu Guo).

The show is simply set with three mobile white screens, although it is not always clear what they represent or why the father figure is seen only in silhouette. However the final sequence when the lovers become butterflies if effectively and touchingly staged.

The music draws heavily on the Chinese roots of the story with a string and lively percussion by Hueyeun Choong but each song is barely distinguishable from the others. This is not helped by the vocal delivery which was at times shouted and unclear so that I could not make out the words.

There may be a beautiful butterfly of show in this story but for me it never emerged from the chrysalis and needs more time to fully realise.

Review by Nick Wayne

Fletcher Mott: ★★★

Butterfly lovers: ★★

Seat: stalls row C | Price of ticket: £12 for double bill
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