New London Theatre, London WC2
There is a play by Ron Hutchinson called Moonlight and Magnolias, recently staged at the Tricycle Theatre in London, about writing the film version of Gone With the Wind. The comedy’s big joke is that producer David O Selznick, director Victor Fleming and screenwriter Ben Hecht hammer out the script to Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel at breakneck speed. And that, pretty much, is the way director Trevor Nunn and Margaret Martin — the American composer, lyricist and book writer of this musical version — deal with Mitchell’s plot. Scenes rush by in a swirl of petticoats and Southern manners. Civil war comes and goes. Atlanta burns — all in a flash. Jill Paice’s Scarlett O’Hara gets married three times, eventually to Darius Danesh’s reformed playboy and gunrunner Rhett, who, tired of her enduring dalliance with Ashley, ultimately leaves without giving a damn.
A bigger problem than cramming in the book’s huge plot is how to deal with the racism of its slave-owning heroes and heroines. It is quickly established that the O’Haras are as good as slave-owners get. The “darkies” even get to pray with them. And Natasha Yvette Williams’s buxom black Mammy at least lends some dignity to the enslaved. But still, like Mitchell’s book, this is a sanitised Georgia where Southern trees bear no strange fruit.
Martin is this show’s unlikely story. A lecturer in public health with an interest in music but not a song to her name, she approached director Trevor Nunn after acquiring the stage rights to Mitchell’s novel. But it is hard to imagine that Nunn was attracted by Mitchell’s lyrically and musically uninspiring score. Like the drama, the songs have no time to develop, even at the show’s near fours hours. So the discovery here — for those, like me, who didn’t see him in Pop Idol or his turns in Chicago and Guys and Dolls — is the charismatic Danesh, who makes a pretty pair with Paice’s more-shrill-than-dangerous Scarlett. But frankly my dear, that is nowhere near enough.
Tel: 0870 890 0141