Review – Lost Soul Music (The Devil You Know) – White Rose Theatre at the Pleasance

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On Wednesday I went to the opening night performance of “Lost Soul Music,” a series of one act musicals being performed in pairs at the Pleasance Theater in Islington (near Caledonian Road station). I was intrigued by the premise – I’m a big fan of the musical and I most certainly want to encourage the production of new ones, and White Rose Theater company’s mission to “save the musical” is decidedly a noble one. Producers Chris Bush and Ian McCluskey also had some pretty good creds from earlier productions at the Edinburgh Fringe, so when Mr. Bush contacted me about coming to review this show, I figured, why not.

The night I attended, the two productions on offer were “The Devil You Know” and “Simon Says” The curtain (as it were – there was none, but work with me) rose on a young woman in a one-shouldered red dress singing what was likely the theme song (“The Devil You Know”) to the accompaniment of three musicians, in a languorous, loungey way that I found very non-musical theater but still very enjoyable. What would be next? I imagined perhaps a hard-boiled detective story, or any other tale in which you could reasonably involve a woman who sings in a nightclub (somehow this worked in State Fair so I figure it can be incorporated into any show).

Then she peeled out of this into a monologue about growing up (in northern England? Southern England? Australia?) in a seemingly normal family that was somehow haunted by her mother’s ancient bedstead and its carvings of imps and devils. This rambled on until … ta dah! A man with heavy eyeliner and gray blusher came out of the back of the set. He quickly established himself as the “devil inside” of this character. Optimistically, I thought that this might mean she was actually possessed (shades of Carrie!) or that perhaps she was an ax murderer (Lizzie Borden!).

But, as it turned out, this devil, and the she-devil who sowed up later, were actually only her internal voices of self-doubt. We were treated to a list of these doubts: did she make the right decision here, was a friend who disappeared actually running away from her, did her choice to reject a man she loved because he was violent lead to his actual wife’s breakdown. In short, did every decision she made in trying to do right ultimately result in her doing wrong?

Despite the fact that there were also songs by the demons, there was little this show could do to rise above what was ultimately a thin, and, in my mind, essentially non-musical theater premise. A struggle with doubt over such uninteresting actions simply didn’t have the oomph to make a musical. Now, struggling over whether or not to avenge your father’s death by murdering your uncle … that’s more like it! This show, however, wouldn’t have succeeded even without music – it was just too thin a premise to be interesting. It was a good showcase, in a fringe theater way, for the actress in the red dress … but it was just dull. When the act was over, we were “invited to come back after the interval,” which I took as an invitation to head back home. Unlike the lead character of this show, I had no doubts about what was the right thing for ME to do. Were any of the other shows, such as the pair “Fisher of Men” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” better? You’ll have to wait for them to be reviewed on A Younger Theater to find out; as for me, I won’t be returning for more.

(This review is for a show seen on Wednesday, February 24th, 2010. There are two entirely different shows in the repertory besides this one and its companion piece; see the White Rose Theater website for details. Lost Soul Music continues through Sunday 14th March at the Pleasance Theater.)

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