Review – Paradise Found – Menier Chocolate Factory

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As I sat in the bar of the Menier Chocolate Factory on an extraordinarily sunny Sunday afternoon, it was hard to describe the atmosphere amongst my 10 or so theater loving friends. Was it glum? Was it funereal? It was certainly creative, as we struggled to put into words the experience we had just lived through.

“The singing. The performers had good voices.”
“And their professionalism. They weren’t holding back. There was no sense of unwillingness or self-consciousness in their performances. They were really giving it their best.”
“The costumes were good, weren’t they? And many of the roles for older women were really good.”
“Oh yes, it was great seeing Nancy Opel on stage again.”
(long pause)
“You know what’s weird about this conversation? It’s like listening to people talk about a Thanksgiving dinner where you’ve burnt the turkey, and everyone’s, ‘Ooh, the pie was really good, I loved the pie’ or ‘Gosh you did a nice job with the salad …’ “
“All while we’re all staring at the big burnt turkey in the middle of the table?”

Yep, that’s exactly what it was: a gigantic, horking, charred and smoking turkey carcass, and not an accidental turkey you blundered into while slumming in some pub theater (or at the National), but some well-financed, “we’re taking it on a trial run before it goes to Broadway” (I shit you not, it says so right here) with BIG names (Hal Prince, Susan Stroman, Mandy Patinkin) behind it, all of whom should have at some point stood up and said, “My God! We are all making tremendous fools of ourselves! This thing stinks!” (So badly, in fact, I fear the smell may creep upstairs and scare of patrons of the Menier’s cafe.)

It is hard, hard I tell you, to figure out where to start a level discussion about a play which I can say so little on the positive side of the ledger other than that everyone sang on key and I adored the costumes (kudos Judy Dolan, it was nice to see that money well-spent and from my second row seat I got an eyeful). The plot was some bizarre flip of Mayerling (fin de siecle Vienna, only everyone’s a happy hedonist) and Measure for Measure sprinkled with a hefty dose of The King and I; following a Muslim emperor and his eunuch (both claimed to be from Persia but were clearly both from Panto-land, where everyone is white and the women all wear belly-dancing costumes) as they try to get the emperor’s libido working again and the eunuch (Mandy Patinkin) learns about love by going to whore houses and sex clubs. We got to hear songs about love, about masturbation, about love, about pleasure, all sort of set to some waltzes …

but I stopped listening. The words came in my ears and then went flat, the songs failed to illuminate the characters in any sort of interesting way. I enjoyed the fun and raciness of the scene in “Club Bat,” where the Viennese were running in and out of rooms having little sexual encounters behind the curtains while lovely girls danced around in front …

but I’d long ago lost my interest in what the eunuch was going to do, or how he was going to interact with these people. Instead it was one scene change after another, clumsy throwaway dialogue, absolutely nothing of interest happening with our so-called lead character (other than him mopping his head repeatedly – I’m pleased to say there is AC in the Menier and it was working, so it won’t be so painful if you’re in the audience). It all winds up building to some weak switched identity thing …

which led to intermission, which I came back from …

… and then it got even worse and I wondered, my God, could they really take the male non-lead of act one and suddenly turn him into Pierrot Lunaire/Paul (from Die Tote Stadt), only we’re really supposed to believe he got a job at as an actor and he’s going to try to kill himself but then suddenly …

I’d say I’d worry about giving too much away, but instead I’ll relate this quote from our post-show recap:

“Wow, how about that last scene in the dressing room?”
“I don’t know, what did you think?”
“It was just so amazing, I was hoping it would never end?”
“What?”
“No, I’m kidding.”
“God, you had me fooled there for a minute. You’ve got a great delivery!”

I find myself relieved that this show came to The Menier Chocolate Factory before anywhere else, because I’m convinced that this massive pile of talent has the opportunity to something so much better – in fact, almost anything better – and with the money they saved by discovering what a horror they’ve given birth to BEFORE they blow a wad taking it to the Great White Way, there’s that much more hope for them getting their acts together and doing something worthy before Hal Prince kicks it. Gene Kelley never got another chance after Xanadu: Hal may still have hope.

Based on this show, I have coined this new name for the venue. The Menier: where dreams go to die. I mean, hey, I only had 30 quid and 2 1/2 hours invested in this; things could have been so much worse.

(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on Sunday, May 23rd, 2010. Please don’t encourage them to continue this horror by going to see it and let it die a peaceful death at home with its loved ones, thereby freeing everyone involved with it to get on with their lives elsewhere.)

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17 Responses to “Review – Paradise Found – Menier Chocolate Factory”

  1. Capability Bowes Says:

    God, I was there too. I wish I hadn’t been. This has DEAD DUCK written all over it. But please bear in mind that its not an in-house Menier production, although this won’t stop it having “Direct from the Menier Chocolate Factory, London” plastered all over it when it gets over to New York, presumably to gain a bit of the kudos that A Little Night Music and La Cage aux Folles has already gained.

  2. jimblog» Blog Archive » First Look at London Says:

    [...] From: Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews [...]

  3. JohnnyFox Says:

    I have a feeling that whilst we hated the show, we’ll LOVE the reviews. Brava, TJ.

  4. A|nn Byles Says:

    Thanks all…I am now really concerned as I have booked my tickets for Sunday next. Maybe time will have improved or matured it!!!!!

  5. Capability Bowes Says:

    Maybe it will have closed by then.

  6. jimblog» Blog Archive » Paradise Found in London Says:

    [...] End Whingers Not the West End Whingers Johnny Fox London Web Cow Girl category: uncategorized tags: london, paradise found, [...]

  7. Review – Paradise Found, Menier Chocolate Factory « West End Whingers Says:

    [...] Stress Disorder. Also in the auditorium on that sweltering Sunday afternoon were JohnnyFox, WebCowgirl and – although we didn’t realise at the time – Not The West End Whingers (an [...]

  8. Andrew (a west end whinger) Says:

    Why is Capability Bowes not commenting as NotTheWestEndWhingers? Seems such a shame after going to all the trouble to set up http://notthewestendwhingers.blogspot.com/

  9. Philip Says:

    Although I totally agree with your review of this production (my reaction was “what were they thinking”) I do take issue with “Menier: where dreams go to die.” I have attended many productions there in the last two years and they have all been good, some excellent. I think they were probably told who was involved and assumed (as we all did) that it would be a good production. Don’t hold this production against a great theatre.

    • webcowgirl Says:

      They do have a great track record of reviving the oldies but this new production was a dream that died. If they do two more new ones than succeed then Paradise will be the anomaly. Gotta say though I’d like it a lot more if they were doing more new productions since that is where my tastes are inclined, promoting the development of new theater, though it’s not the Menier’s usual thing. However, Paradise left a VERY strong impression – not that I won’t still be coming back regularly as the Menier’s hit to miss ratio is about 3 goodies to 1 baddie per my experience.

  10. Gary Says:

    I went to last night’s performance and the above review is so right – it went from bad to worse to atrocious!!
    The first half at least had some witty songs,and the singing (with the exception of, surprisingly, Mandy Patinkin) was on key. But, after the interval it was embarrassing to witnessing such utter (sorry no other word for it) crap!
    Please MCF close this now before your reputation is tarnished by such a dire production!

  11. Melanie Says:

    I left in the interval – and, boy, judging by the comments above, I made the right decision. So glad it wasn’t just me!

  12. Capability Bowes Says:

    Unfortunately they can’t close it; because of the intense media interest and the (alleged) talent on stage and off, its completely sold out for the remainder of the run. And there’s a “no refunds” policy on tickets……

  13. Glen Says:

    Why oh why did I book seats for this the day they went on sale? Oh well off in a couple of weeks time and looks like it will be one to chalk up for the turkey factor!

  14. Brian Spiby Says:

    With 3 friends I sat through Sunday’s matinee as well. Has Hal Prince lost the plot? Where was the direction? Can’t agree about the cozzies – cheap and badly made – like the “sets”. Terrible pastiche Strauss with rip-offs from FLEDERMAUS (the “Bat” brothel)- and Wiener Blut certainly didn’t make me “feel good”. Wearing mics in the Menier? And how did Mandy Patinkin acquire new balls for his second-half baritone register?
    Chocolate Factory – disassociate yourself from this rubbish. We can forgive you this once but woe betide you if you transgress again.

  15. Review – Oscar Wilde’s “Salome” – Richmond Theatre (then Hampstead) « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    [...] of Oscar Wilde spoken on stage (and the others were the abyssmal Ingredient X and bad-unto-farce Paradise Lost). A live production of Salome this was but it’s hard to say that this show brought [...]

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