Set in a swanky London flat where the colour scheme seems to be black and grey with a hint of orange, poor and obscure playwright Geoffrey Tempest sets about rehearsing his play. It turns out that this colourless set actually belongs to a rather colourful Prince Lucio Rimanez, a sort of Satan that offers the writer fame, success and love in return for his soul.
As the play progresses it becomes clear that the Prince is more than just a silent backer of the musical play as he starts offering Geoffrey new scenes and songs that always seem to make the final cut. The play within a play story line permits for a lot of meta humour and perhaps even more so for a press night with the occasional dig at theatre critics. The show doesn’t lack dramatic irony as the audience see the two stories intertwine yet the characters are clueless.
Following the ranks of catchy villain tunes, Satan writes some of the best songs in this musical within a musical. While Mr Tempest’s musical play lacks a variety, to put it politely, the Prince uses his devilish tricks to manipulate both story lines tied together with some very witty songs. If anyone thought there was a limit to how many rhymes someone could reasonably shoehorn into a song, the devil’s soundtrack would prove them to be very wrong. Funnily enough, none of the rhymes feel particularly forced either – making it all the more entertaining.
The cast have clearly captured the tone of the play and their comic timing is flawless. Simon Willmont as Geoffrey Tempest is the perfect combination of naive and proud to fall effortlessly into Satan’s grip. Dale Rapley as the Prince is completely suave with just a touch of passive aggression and a hint of persuasiveness, enough to shield the other actors from realising that they are simply his puppets. Claire-Marie Hall plays ‘The Woman’ who is – in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way – very much the object of the play and is disposed of as such; although not before singing a wonderful song about a woman’s place which is just on the right side of the line to be very funny and not at all offensive. With every incarnation, the woman makes her mark on the stage and is incredibly funny.
There is a fourth person on stage, Amiel the accompanist played by Stefen Bednarczyk. Amiel has had his tongue removed so is mute for most of the show except for a surprising and delightful song that opens the second act as a rather well placed showstopper.
To enjoy this show you need to go in completely loose and willing to laugh at yourself as well as the characters. Much of the humour is very self-aware and of course not intended to offend. Ultimately, it’s a dark comedy that reveals the darker side in every audience member but you’ll be laughing too much to care.
The Sorrows of Satan plays Tristan Bates Theatre until March 25.
Photo: Ben Radford Photography