Charing Cross Theatre, London – until 6 April 2019
There’s much to like about this production of Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley’s musical Violet, not least a winning performance from Kaisa Hammarlund and a striking set design from Morgan Large which makes the most of a cleverly reconfigured Charing Cross Theatre.
The stage has been moved to the centre of the long auditorium which dramatically ups the intimacy of the space. And Hammarlund – recently in another of Tesori’s musicals Fun Home – is a warmly magnetic presence as the central character Violet, a young woman who journeys from North Carolina to Oklahoma in the hope of a cure for the facial disfigurement that shapes her life.
Tesori’s score picks intelligently at a range of influences that characterise the geographical journey, but Crawley’s book – based on Doris Betts’ short story The Ugliest Pilgrim – doesn’t quite map out as thrilling an emotional journey, a lack of narrative force to really connect us to Violet’s plight as she engages the attention of two Vietnam-bound soldiers.
Perhaps to counter this, director Shuntaro Fujita employs a revolve but ultimately to little real effect. And some muddy sound design means lyrical clarity is often sacrificed for an amplification which surely isn’t really needed in this newly reconceived space. Jay Marsh, James Gant and Simbi Akanda stand out in the ensemble though, whose winning performances make Violet an intriguing proposition all told.