I suppose my key issue with Violet lay directly in the story being told. There’s something hard to swallow about the very core of it: a girl who’s not traditionally beautiful learns that she doesn’t need to change. But not because society’s definition of beauty is ultimately flawed, but because not one, but two men have expressed an attraction to her. This may feel like an oversimplification, but it would be hard to claim that Violet really boils down to much more than this.
Of course, that’s a problem with a large majority of musicals written prior to present day, and maybe it’s one that we have to be willing to work around to a certain extent. However, even that requires a degree of self awareness that this production didn’t quite have nailed down. Also, I personally found it quite hard to keep track of the various ghosts, flashbacks and ‘past selves’ that we had to rememer. Keeping in mind who was on stage and why sometimes proved difficult, and this definitely detracts from the overall.
Mixed into this slightly messy situation, Kaisa Hammarlund works spectacularly hard as Violet. It’s a very complex role, combining a young woman who feels unable to fit into her world and who’s searching for something better, with someone who is, on a certain level, extremely cynical. Her ultimately misplaced faith leads her across state borders and through the most unforeseen of circumstances, letting her learn about herself in the process. It’s not unique, but it is a catalyst for character growth. There’s a lot to handle, and Hammarlund takes it all on board with grace and confidence. Jay Marsh was also wonderful as Flint. He has an extremely powerful voice, and it was put to good use.
I’d also have to question some elements of the staging, designed by Morgan Large. The arrangement of the theatre itself was difficult, with large raked seating blocks on each side of the stage. In between these, the stage space looked quite cramped and alienated from the back rows. The revolve which provides the centrepiece to many of the scenes often feels either over-used or unnecessarily included. It’s not that the stage shouldn’t move, it’s just that it doesn’t need to spin quite as much as it does.
All in all, while I can’t honestly say that I loved Violet, it definitely has some bright moments. The cast’s vocals are impressive, and the ensemble carry the piece nicely, but it isn’t quite enough to carry a piece that, in some ways, doesn’t feel built to work.
Violet is playing until 6 April. For more information and tickets, visit the Charing Cross Theatre website.