Circa Theatre presents:
C – a musical
Lyrics and book by Paul Jenden
Music by Gareth Farr
Director Paul Jenden
Danny Mulheron Me
Jackie Clarke The Voice Inside My Head
Jane Waddell Mum
Louis Solino Carcinoma
Sue Alexander Pianist
Performance reviewed – Wednesday 24th July
At Circa Theatre to 3rd August 2013
This remarkable production follows Paul Jenden’s own journey from his diagnosis with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia, through the rigours of treatment, and on to an eventual state of remission.
You might well wonder how such a subject could possibly be the stuff of a lively and entertaining stage show – doubts initially shared by Jenden himself, who writes in the programme: “When I was throwing up in a hospital bed I couldn’t have imagined that this group of amazing artists would join together to turn my illness into an inspiring show, let alone that Circa would get behind us and put it on stage. It’s a show for everyone, people with cancer, people who know people with cancer and especially those who just want a good night out.” And the musical was indeed a good night out, and an extraordinary way to explore such a subject, despite its threatening backdrop from which none can feel immune.
Gareth Farr puts the work into “a nameless genre of ‘play with songs and poems’ ”, and says it has proved to be his favourite stage project to date, with music more akin to what he writes for classical ensembles, and particularly operatic voice and solo piano. The music is in the form of two simultaneous song cycles – the moody and dark journey to an imagined and metaphorical Venice, where he is most experimental with the musical language; and the ‘voice inside my head’ songs – which are a little closer to the fun bouncy music Paul Jenden and he have revelled in in the past.
The tuneful lyrics, so seductively presented by Jackie Clarke, punctuate a distinctly quirky script where Danny Mulheron plays the central anchorman, the cancer patient. This is no journey of morbid introspection, yet it graphically explores the assault on the mind and self that such a disease hurls at the protagonist – much worse than the disease itself in his view.
The play is roughly chronological, and dramatically charts the surprises that confront the “victim” at every turn. The surprises of his own psychological reactions, self expectations, highs and lows, and those of friends, relatives and sundry bystanders who, of course, know best how he should tackle this monster. It is all filtered masterfully through a script that engages his earlier memories of watching Mum succumb slowly to C, and his astonishment at the courage and optimism he discovers in fellow patients.
Also winding through the music, poems and dialogue is the mute but incredibly expressive figure of Carcinoma aka Cassanova – a macabre Venetian figure who comes and goes in many different Carnival guises, shown in an astonishing array of costumes designed by Jenden himself. Sue Alexander’s masterful skills at the piano were a real asset to the production, but unfortunately the voices were over-amplified to the detriment of some scenes. A small adjustment there would be welcome.
Bouquets to the cast and production team for an excellent show, and particularly to Circa for taking this musical on board. It is a totally unexpected take on a subject that is largely taboo in the stage world, but it succeeds with flying colours. Make sure you see it.