New Romantics young and old will no doubt be filling the Traverse during the month ahead to catch sight of iconic 80s pop star, and former Soft Cell frontman Marc Almond in what is his first foray into musical theatre.
And Almond being Almond, it’s no cheesy, bombastic West End musical he’s chosen to make his debut in, but a dark song cycle about the plague that swept London in 1665.
Not that he’s the only draw here, the collaborative team behind the production boasting impressive CVs of their own, with the libretto coming from Shopping and F***ing playwright Mark Ravenhill, once considered the enfant terrible of English theatre and now regarded as one of its mainstays; music by award-winning composer Conor Mitchell; and international theatre and opera director, Stewart Laing completing the impressive line-up. But they don't deliver.
As the audience expectantly waits for the show to begin, Almond appears in off -white face to rapturous applause, accompanied by a pianist, the 16 piece orchestra music stands set up on stage a design ruse, and the thinking behind it by Laing unclear.
From there the singer struts the split-level set (a white painted room occupying the top raised level) delivering Ravenhill’s song cycle with a mixture of horror, humour, pathos, and at times overly hysterical hamminess as he takes us on one man’s journey through the plague and all its horrors.
Uninfected, while the bodies pile up around him, his tale, culled from eyewitness accounts of the time and inspired by Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, sees him confront the loss of his lover to sickness ( “I was frightened that you’d kiss me..” he sings in a show whose AIDS metaphor is only too clear); dons a wig to humorous, preening effect after shaving his body hair to avoid contamination from fleas and lice; and trawls the city which itself emerges as a character in his isolated odyssey, staring into the pit where the bodies lie piled high.
Short vignettes about struggling with life and death, with the show entirely sung through, one of the most striking things about the production is the quite stunning use of video design by Finn Ross. It’s also beautifully lit.
That said the spoken/sung libretto is average, and Almond’s voice of varying quality in a form he doesn’t seem comfortable with or overly suited to.
And where I was expecting something along the likes of Kurt Weill that would draw on Almond’s showmanship, the overall effect, bar a moving finale, is punk cabaret combo Tiger Lillies-lite, and needs more meat on its bones.
In a showstopping moment, as Almond utters the last words on stage: “In London/came the plague in sixteen sixty-five/ one hundred thousand dead/But I survived” there's a chilling resonance about survival in an age of epidemic that reaches far beyond the show’s historical setting provides a shiver down the spine. But for all that the show is a disappointment.
- Ten Plagues, Traverse, until August 28. Tel 0131 228 1404: