Forget Big Ben or the Houses of Parliament. The most familiar sight in central London is someone looking lost and scrutinizing an ‘A-Z’ street guide. The origins of this little red and blue tourist lifeline are fascinating. So it’s a shame that this new musical about the woman who created it after getting lost going to a party never seems clear about its direction.
The main problem is that ‘The A-Z of Mrs P’ can’t decide what it’s actually about. Is it about how artist Phyllis Pearsall (‘Mrs P’) – on whose autobiographies it is based – mapped out the sprawling streets of early twentieth-century London? Or is it about her fight to escape the shadow of her egotistical, overbearing father? Or is it actually about her mother’s descent into alcoholism and destitution?
Neither Diane Samuels’s book nor Gwyneth Herbert’s music and lyrics come together to form a clear picture, as these strands float in and out of focus rather than meshing in Sam Buntrock’s production – relegating each other to bystander status in long scenes that drain the show’s energy by yanking it in multiple directions. And with a running time of over two and a half hours, this begins to drag.
It’s unfortunate, because it’s full of fresh, inventive touches – particularly at the start, as Mrs P paces the streets of the city she loves. The way in which the ensemble enact the bustle of London life, becoming trains and taxis, is beautifully choreographed. The cast is top-notch. Isy Suttie is someone to root for as a plucky Phyllis, while a wild Frances Ruffelle and blustering Michael Matus are excellent as her feuding parents.
Ultimately, though, this show is less than the sum of its parts, sadly failing to chart its own terrain with the same success as the indomitable Mrs P.
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Great opening scene, fab performances, but it felt like the focus of the story was the parents rather than Mrs P (who from the fragments revealed, seemed to have had a fascinating life). I wanted to hear/see more - deeply frustrating experience.
I really wanted to like this, but I found myself thinking at the interval, "would I rather walk the streets of London myself in the sunshine (I went to a matinee) or stay for a second half?" I chose the former. The cast and the choreography are great, but the story was uninvolving and music generally forgettable. I was fairly bored quite soon into the first act, and it seemed to drag. A real shame, as this could have been a winner.
I found this show amazing, almost a one in a million. I have never before sat through a show that contained such good acting, direction, a decent design (if a little old hat), pleasant songs, and yet I was physically compelled to get up and walk out, it was so bad. Sadly this must come down to Diane Samuel's book. It is rare for a story to... well, not have a story. Here is an interesting and eccentric woman who tried to convince the world that she had invented something that was around before her, which her father was making before her, for which she had to have a great deal of help to make, and yet this part of her life is barely touched on. As a woman, she had an extraordinary life and we saw hardly any of it. This is a great shame, and the basic rules of storytelling were broken leading to horrible results. I felt sorry for the actors, I stayed until the bitter (and for many of the audience it was) end mainly for them. They worked their hearts out and did a fantastic job. Issy Sutie may never be a great singer, but she is very charming and easy to watch, you feel comfortable in her safe hands. However, the character was written badly, like a strange Enid Blyton character stuck in the wrong play. Also strangely, for an female creative team, I came away feeling sorry for the father and the son in the story, both of whom were left in the wake of rather erratic or whining women. Mrs P felt like a drain on her fathers patience, time, and resources for many years without reward. Not to mention her husband, who she walked out on in the middle of the night, leaving a letter and never speaking to him again. Yet this cold and hard side of her character were never investigated, she became a flowing hippy-like stereotype. For me the problem lies in the author trying to make the audience feel something, trying to force emotions and feelings. It feels like it tries, very misguidedly, to take us on a visceral journey in the way that a film like Breath of Life does. This is the wrong subject for that, it makes no sense, and it is too forces. The story should do that work for you, it shouldn't be subjected on an audience who clearly just wanted entertaining. If you tell a good story the emotions and journey will come naturally to the audience. I felt slightly cheated as I looked forward to learning about 'Mrs P' and ended up having to do all the work myself at home afterwards. I hope the show is rewritten with that in mind.