Thursday, 23 February 2012

Criticulous' Ultimate Trance

Louise Ahl

It is impossible to tell, thanks to the non-stop manic energy which is tempered by a sweet sensitivity, that this is Ahl’s first Broadway musical. The topic - the life of Elizabethan occultist Edward Kelley - may seem unpromising. However, the success of the single, No, It’s Not!, seems to have ensured a steady stream of full houses. Quite how Ahl then turned this tale into a frenetic two hours that references everything from children’s theatre through to contemporary dance - and holds the audience’s attention completely - is sheer magic.

Kelley, often regarded as a chancer or a rogue, is here seen as simply out-of-time and bemused by a rapidly changing society. Clueless about what he sees, and making increasingly absurd predictions. The script has little sympathy for the supposed hero: humiliations are heaped upon Kelley’s head, sometimes comic, sometimes tragic. The lurking stranger, who leads him into deeper waters, is never benevolent, despite frequently promising that only good can come of his advice.

Ahl’s take on musical theatre is unsurprisingly hyper-kinetic, jumping genres and frequently tottering on the edge of mayhem. The use of music - the drum solos are stunning  - and the ready wit of the speeches rescues the action from disorder, leaving behind an impression of a bold new focus for a genre that was itself on the precipice of obsolescence.

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