Charing Cross Theatre, London – until 6 April 2019
Based on Doris Betts’ short story The Ugliest Pilgrim, featuring music by Jeanine Tesori and libretto by Brian Crawley, Violet follows a disfigured woman as she embarks on a Greyhound Bus journey from Spruce Pine, North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to be healed by a famous television healer.
The musical opened to critical acclaim Off-Broadway in 1997, spawned various productions in the US and is making its UK debut at the Charing Cross Theatre before transferring to Tokyo and Osaka.
The Charing Cross Theatre has been completely transformed as it becomes a theatre in the round, with a sleek and interesting set designed by Morgan Large. The space is so versatile and this is an especially unique set which works well to display the physical and mental journey our lead goes on. The musical features a number of flashbacks which are mirrored on the stage itself by the actors but also helped by the wonderful lighting from Howard Hudson. The present is bathed in warm light, whilst the flashbacks are much cooler and starker; a clever detail which helps the motion of the show.
Violet features a superb cast, led by Kaisa Hammarlund as the scarred Violet, giving a stunningly open performance that feels grounded and truthful. As her younger self, Amy Mepham does a great job. As love interest number one Monty, Matthew Harvey gives a vocally outstanding and all round enthralling performance. Harvey manages to bring the various sides of Monty to life with ease and talent. Love interest number two, Flick, is played with a beautiful vulnerability by Jay Marsh who provides the smoothest and warmest vocals. Marsh could sing the phone book and receive applause.
Despite its wonderfully strong cast, the story of Violet feels bland and somewhat uninspired. Nothing really happens and a lack of character development means the audience don’t root for the characters as much as they should. The slow moving show is very plot based, rather than character based but the plot is extremely predictable and leaves much to be desired.
The cast are stellar but unfortunately the book falls flat in this revival.
photo credit: Scott Rylander