The Liberation of Colette Simple at Jackson’s LaneCultureTheatre
Retrospectives of the 50s civil defence movement often reveal a disturbingly eminent humour in their harsh, unintentional juxtaposition of the idylls of “white-picket” society and the terrors of the nuclear threat. It is with this observation that the script for The Liberation of Colette Simple (written by Amy Rosenthal, Robert Holman, Charlie Dupré, Honeysuckle Weeks, Adam Meggido, Desmond O’Connor, Adam Byron, Matt Peover) primarily interacts – and with a stroke of genius. Based loosely on Tennessee Williams’ The Case of the Crushed Petunias (following a shopkeeper’s discovery of life beyond perfectly-arranged flowers and immaculately-curled hair), this short musical expertly magnifies and satirises Williams’ criticisms of contemporary society.
Potentially the work’s greatest asset is the central contrast between the script’s immensely dark, subtle invocations (race issues, nuclear ethics and even French existentialism embodied in an ominous, neon “NOTIONS” over the stage) and the beautiful artificiality of the action – making it both consistently humorous and chilling. The sheer volume of symbolism permeating the dialogue, set and acting is almost comic: from cracks in china and tears in fabric to cages, shredded flowers and an eerie mannequin display, perhaps the most effective – and disturbing – of all is the gradual contortion of Colette’s (Nathalie Carrington) countenance from a gaping, plastic smile to a look of panic and despair.
Carrington’s vocal ability is particularly striking – alongside a natural, hugely dynamic and diverse range of emotions, there is seldom a note lacking astounding power or the utmost tonal precision. Her mastery of subtle and exaggerated vibrato allows for instant transitions from heartfelt joy to painful anguish with almost frightening ease. Gary Tushaw, opposite Carrington in a variety of roles from a housewife to a canary, shows a great deal of strength in consistent and comically exaggerated character and vocal changes; however, his performance often misses the tasteful subtlety of Carrington’s, and occasional lapses in accent and character can jar.
Nonetheless, both actors are ultimately a fantastic match for Vincent Guibert’s score, which undulates between poignant serenades, aggrandised marches and sinister minor-key numbers. Guibert’s work contributes to an overall thematic cohesion, with the script, Matt Peover’s direction and James Cotterill’s visual design, underlying a mutual awareness of this same, conflicted black humour that permeates 1950s Americana. The contrast between the ecstasies and trivialities of “white-picket” society and the sober concerns of corrupted innocence and the American dream is evident through each and every aspect of the performance, be it choreography or lighting, making for a hilarious and gripping piece of musical theatre.
The Liberation of Colette Simple is on at Jackson’s Lane from 16th September until 4th October 2014, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch playwrights Robert Holman and Amy Rosenthal discuss the show here: