by Chris Monks.
New Vic Theatre Etruria Road ST5 0JG To 15 September 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.15pm.
Post-show Discussion 11 Sept.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 01782 717962.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 September.
Beautiful music with a squalid underbelly of a story.
It seems hard on Giuseppe Verdi to adapt his opera Rigoletto as a torrid story of love and low-life in 1974 West Yorkshire then call the chief villain Joe Green, the anglicised form of the composer’s name.
But ruthless Chris Monks has done that in Soul Man, now moved from its Scarborough birthplace to the New Vic. And Monks should be asking for other offences to be taken into consideration; like nicking another Verdi title for club band The Force of Destiny, whose Soul numbers supplement the operatic source in the first act; and plundering a famous chorus from Verdi’s Nabucco, turning it into a sort of patter song incorporating as many West Yorkshire place-names as possible.
Then there’s the matter of unleashing so many appalling seventies hair-styles on an innocent, paying audience. No other modern period has dared commit the same degree of curly, floppy hirsute excesses as are here on display, nowhere more so than on and around the head of club comedian Justin Jones.
Like many a funny man, when things get adverse his bitter, angry side comes to the fore in Jimmy Johnson’s spot-on characterisation. And for Jimmy, Monks’ equivalent of Verdi’s eponymous court jester, things grow very nasty indeed.
It’s a nifty move to replace the aristocratic power of Verdi’s Duke of Mantua (Francis I in the original 1832 Victor Hugo play) by the power of the local hard man, while the shabby, functional club and café décor reveal the cruel, seedy emotions at work behind the usual historical colouring.
The operatic singing’s variable, especially in high or sustained notes, but the music’s quality mostly comes through – Ngo Omene Ngofa floats and soars through Monks’ rewording of the love-soaked ‘Caro Nome’.
The famous thumping tune with which Joe expresses his callous view of women lacks robustness as a single violin tries to add colouring, but the following quartet, one of Verdi’s finest tunes, is searing as gangster and cheap blonde whore sing the haunting tune and vocal display amid the tables, while the loving father and daughter add their vocal lines outside, among the dustbins.
Sparrow/Pete: Marc Akinfolarin.
Joe Green: Adam Baxter.
Lisa Barker/Stella/Maggie: Shirley Darroch.
Jeff Mortimer/Danny ‘Killer’ Watts: Steve Dorsett.
Chief Inspector Stan Barker/Jim Blatherwick: Liam Gerrard.
Justin Jones: Jimmy Johnston.
Gina Jones: Ngo Omene Ngofa.
Barry Townsend: Alex Tompkins.
Community actors: Matthew Jones, Francesca Mills, Olympia Pattison-Corney, Hannah Roberts, Georgia Bradley-Bourne, Louise Kenny, Adam Sutton, Gareth Hall, Rachel Mullock, Esther Green, Andrew Duncan, Simon Baddeley.
Director: Chris Monks.
Designer: Jan Bee Brown.
Lighting: Mark Johnson.
Sound: Paul Stear.
Musical Director: Richard Atkinson.
Choreographer: Beverley Norris-Edmunds.
Accent coach: Mark Langley.
Fight director: Philip d’Orléans.