It’s actually really frustrating to come out of a show like Falsettos, and to feel so very little. Naturally, there’s always going to be that question, perhaps better described as a sneaking suspicion, that the problem lies with me. Maybe I’m not in the right frame of mind. Maybe I’m not emotionally committed enough. Or maybe it just fundamentally doesn’t resonate with me.
It feels important to acknowledge that this is an intensely emotionally charged piece, somehow managing to tackle familial pressures, delicate relationship dynamics, the HIV epidemic and the ever growing sense of individual cynicism and uselessness in the face of a seemingly increasingly selfish society. It’s a lot. However, for all its heavy contents, it feels somehow empty. The world soulless comes to mind, although it’s virtually impossible to figure out why.
Individually, the performers are all excellent. Laura Pitt-Pulford in particular is outstanding as Trina, a woman caught in the middle of the men in her life and their life crises. Her anxious energy is palpable, but doesn’t overshadow the fact that Trina so very deeply wants the best for everyone else.
The visual concept of this production is interesting. The staging itself is smooth and effective enough, built around a selection of smooth white tables and boxes. It’s a handy way to deal with the rapid shifts in location. Around the stage, however, there are multiple projection screens of various sizes. These sometimes work well for purposes such as displaying the pictures of Jason’s (Albert Atack) various prospective Bar Mitzvah guests, but more frequently feel superfluous when used as additional backdrop. The score is dense enough that it doesn’t require constant visual aid.
Across the board, it feels as if the performers understand their characters in a way that their creative team perhaps don’t entirely. There are some difficult tonal shifts in this musical, with characters forgiven all too quickly, although much of this impression can be attributed to the fact that the story takes place over a far wider timespan than it seems to. However, the actors manage to make these moments feel at least convincing if not justifiable.
It’s clear that this isn’t what the vision for this production was, but I feel it could really benefit from quite a radical stripping back. There’s no way to really replicate the fear and confusion that was born in the seventies and eighties, as the world crumbled and was reborn all at once. Adding layers of light and colour to PJ McEvoy’s set, even if they do represent societal artificiality and so on, makes that process of trying to connect even harder.
Judging by the standing ovation at the end, my feelings on this show are clearly very much in the minority. I’m glad that it works for other people, even if it just doesn’t click with me.
Falsettos is playing The Other Palace until 23 November. For more information and tickets, see the LW Theatres website.