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A CurtainUp London Review
The Glorious Ones
by Sebastian King
Set in 16th Century Italy, The Glorious Ones tells the story of a commedia dell’arte troupe of ‘cranky maladjusted misfits.’ Led by the swaggering Flaminio Scala (Mike Christie), they travel around Italy – and eventually France – educating us in the ways of commedia, giving us lessons in lazzi (gags), performing their famous improvisations, and each playing their own stock character. As the action unfolds, the lines between actor and character blur, rivalries come to a head, romances become complicated, and when the writer Isabella Andreini (Anouska Eaton) joins the troupe, events take a turn for the tragic.
Although the size of the Landor’s stage makes staging options somewhat limited, McWhir and choreographer Robbie O’Reilly do a sterling job of bringing this pleasant little piece to life. Martin Thomas’s set is a fold out wooden platform, and Howard Hudson’s lighting takes full advantage of a gauze and a variety of hanging lanterns. An all-female band, led by MD Joanna Cichonska, play beautifully, and although the lack of amplified singers means that some words are occasionally lost, on the whole the sound balance is perfect, and gives an appropriate intimacy to a show that celebrates the connection between performer and audience.
As Flaminio Scala, Mike Christie – formerly of X Factor group G4 – has the requisite soaring voice, but lacks the acting chops essential to pull off this eccentric character role. Thankfully, the rest of the cast have charisma by the bucketful, delivering their roles with panache and charm. Peter Straker, recently seen in the Hackney Empire’s Cinderella, brings a Jamaican twist to the miser Pantalone, but is sadly underused and his character undeveloped. As Dottore, David Muscat (who stepped into the role only two days before opening) is hugely enjoyable, clearly relishing the innuendo his role requires. However, the star of the show is Katie Brennan as Columbina, whose comic vivacity in Act One is matched by emotional oomph in Act Two, with her haunting torch song ‘My Body Wasn’t Why.’
As something of a commedia aficionado myself, I questioned why Columbina was one of the inamoratas (female lovers) in Act One, rather than the usual maid, but I was relieved to have this question answered in Act Two, in an interesting twist to the plot. Also explored was the decline of commedia dell’arte, as scripted plays became more popular. However, the lasting message was that of the legacy of commedia, and we are reminded of the influence it has had on comedy to this day. The show may not break any boundaries — and certainly doesn’t have as many memorable tunes as Ragtime —- but it is a fitting tribute to this long-lost art form, and this production sees the Landor team once again rising to the occasion, producing yet another stylish and stylised musical revival.
For Simon Saltzman’s review in New York, more thoughts and the complete song list go here.
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