Last night I had the misfortune to go and see Grease is the word down at the Piccadilly Theatre in London’s West End. My verdict: don’t.
This was my first time seeing Grease, but like everybody I had a pretty good idea what the show entailed. I also wanted to see it as I’ve been following Grease:The School Musical which ended tonight (although I have it on PVR and haven’t seen it yet). Regardless, I was very disappointed.
Now, I’m not really a typical theatre critic, in that I come from a very “techie” background and so any sound/lighting problems will probably affect my enjoyment of the show more than others, but both the sound and lighting were truly terrible. The sound was bearable when the cast were using handheld mics, such as in “Greased Lightning” and in the finale, but otherwise it just sounded wrong (I can’t put my finger on why though).
The lighting was my biggest bug with the whole show. The standard of followspotting was just awful. I don’t care if the design calls for sharp half- and whole- body followspotting, it looks like stand-up comedy and detracts from the action. Using the followspot as the frontlight for the whole drive-in movie sequence was a bizarre choice for me, as there were plenty of other, more suitable lanterns out front and achieving a simple chase that actually looks like the actors are watching a projection is pretty standard stuff. The mirrorballs hung off the proscenium were never fully utilised and when they were used for the “prom/beauty school drop-out” sequence they were lit so poorly as to be useless. Continual blackouts also sap the show of any energy and momentum it was building up.
Another unforgivable sequence in terms of lighting is the finale. For the biggest numbers in the show, to have a fairly static state (with just a chase on the back of the bar) is counter-productive when the cast are attempting to muster as much energy as possible (more on that later).
And then there was the set – I quite liked the cartoon/drawn paint effect that covers most of the set. In fact, I would probably say the set is the highlight of the show (or maybe the band up at the back, who are perfectly adequate for the show) Some of the neons are nice too, but it is just a pity the theme isn’t carried out further. The structure of the bleachers for instance, could be made more fun/cartoony and a few more props for “Greased Lightning” wouldn’t go a miss.
Eventually, we come around to the meat of the show for most people – the acting. Firstly, I don’t believe in the casting – the cast as a rule do not reflect the teenage nature of their fictional counterparts. More fundamental is the lack of energy the show builds up. This is meant to be one of the “happy, clappy” shows on the West End, comparable to the camp-tastic Hairspray. To draw any parallels to Hairspray is just unkind to a fabulous show. The cast struggle to drag the audience through the songs. In their defence, the script may not do them any favours, but it needs a lot more enthusiasm and bounce to be convincing.
If I were to give out stars: 2 stars would be my verdict. Better than that is my advice: Don’t bother, go and see Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre instead.