(Seen at the 2.30pm preview performance on 2nd
This is the slickest transfer the monkey has ever seen. The
production feels like it originated on the West End stage, rather than an import
after a “bus and truck” trek across the USA. It is impossible not to admire the
highest standards set in every aspect - staging, design, lighting, direction and
of course performance.
Alexia Khadime brings a fabulous naivety to Mafala Hatimbi,
a simple African girl bewitched by Mormanism and bewitching one of two amazing
real Americans (Jared Gertner) in the cast. Getner’s partner in Mormonism, Gavin
Creel, also justifies his transatlantic journey bringing an energy that never
flags. Other standouts in the cast include Chris Jarman as a cross between Idi
Amin and Mr T, and a suitably horrified Stephen Ashfield as Elder McKinley.
So, plaudits the monkey can agree on are out of the way. It
comes to the show itself. And for the first time ever, it is going to write two
reviews of it. Simply because this show can be taken either way... and it
honestly can’t decide which it feels more strongly...
First review: this is where those “terribly witty at
interpreting Fraternity Humour” chaps who wrote the clever revues at Harvard and
Yale moved on to. A knowing and very adult romp. It imbues all who see and “get”
the parodies with a wonderful veneer of sophistication; thus transcending the
strong language and very ‘daring’ comedy, to take in several useful points about
religion and world matters.
Laugh? You’ll rarely stop at some inventive parodies of
religious and maniacal dictators, victims and saviours; and one inspired
hospital joke that may have raised a Kenneth Williams eyebrow. Oh, and you’ll
never again see “The Sound Of Music,” “Wicked,” “Annie,” “Fiddler on the Roof,”
“The Lion King,” “A Chorus Line” or “The King and I” in the same light.
Leave humming the catchy “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” having taken
a wonderful two hours out from everyday life. It may be a “one time show – once
you’ve got the joke, you don’t need to go again,” but you have to admire the
post-modernity of it all.
Second review: just why is this foul-mouthed show is the
toast of New York, is it all an elaborate hoax? In the first 20 minutes
audiences get the stage equivalent of a cute 5-year-old saying “bum” and getting
a big laugh from the adults. The child thus repeats it ad nauseam, with rapidly
diminishing returns, until his adoption can be arranged.
A (when the monkey saw it, and estimated at least) 99.5%
white middle-class audience considered it fine to roar with laughter at ‘US
perspective’ stereotypical “victim Africa.” The script excuses an
uncomfortable-if-you-think-about-it ‘typewriter’ gag (among many others) with a
final payoff “we recognise a metaphor so we are not stupid poor people, so look,
the writers don't mean any of it.”
Aside from the fact there are so few leading West End parts
specifically for black actors, a liberal mind may ponder, “just how desperate
some of the cast were for the job, and if some of them had read the script
And that is, of course, before the title religion is
considered. It’s interesting to speculate on whether the writers might have
taken on one Middle Eastern faith in the same manner... given that during the
show it’s tellingly the one religion they don’t mention. A cowardly opting for a
safer target, perhaps? Oh, and just for the record, if there is a sequel about
that other belief system, the monkey won’t be requiring a ticket, thanks.
Simply, this musical will divide audiences into those
seeing it as “a gay romp with Mormons and Villagers in Africa” and those willing
to analyse just why they did feel so uncomfortable with what they were watching.
For the broadest minded or “South Park” fan wanting a hip,
adult, Rolls-Royce quality finish of a musical that will deliver solid belly
laughs without requiring thought, this delivers perhaps beyond anything else in
London. Others may find it raises more moral questions than even a fifth volume
of the greatest book ever written might be able to answer.