The Mistress Cycle at the Landor Theatre
The Mistress Cycle takes place as part of the From Page to Stage season at the Landor Theatre in Clapham North. The festival is aimed at creating new opportunities for chosen artists, for them to develop their new musical productions from experience in front of an audience.
This piece is a new American musical – aptly timed with Abi Morgan’s play The Mistress Contract playing at the Royal Court this season. It’s intriguing that this discussion of the validity of marriage is very much present across the pond as well. Written by Beth Blatt (book and lyrics) and Jenny Giering (music), their storytelling echoes Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls by bringing in women of different eras and cultures who’ve experienced this way of life. Their job is to influence the modern day, 30-something photographer Tess (Caroline Deverill) who has been proposed this situation by an elusive man whom we never meet – this is a female only cast.
Deverill brings a smug yet endearing grounding to Tess. She’s assured and sassy but vulnerable and quite obviously feeling the pressure to conform and settle down. Her vocals are strong, yet she applies an odd American twang to her accent when singing, which doesn’t correspond with her Hoxton-based life and spoken voice. You can’t refer to the other actresses who support Tess’s destiny as an ensemble because their characters have too much influence on the rolling of the musical. Maria Lawson’s concubine Ching is animated and committed, Kara Lane’s sexually adventurous Anais is very Marilyn Monroe but rooted and has an exquisite vocal range. Nicola Blackman is classically sexy and her bordello madame entices her audience playfully, while Laura Armstong’s king’s mistress is fragile and honest. The entire cast create something relatable and evocative in their work, aptly directed by Bronagh Lagan.
Racky Plews’ choreography is simple and suits the space in a clearly tight-budgeted design by Eda Giray. It would be interesting to see what Giray could have created, as the fluidity of the adaptable wheeled boxes and the grace of the hanging picture frames works.
There’s further to go with the conversation of the piece. The end disappoints with its repetitive “amen” – the presence of God didn’t seem to influence any part of the stories you find yourself with and Tess’s choice is not clearly made to round it off. Some songs make their point too quickly and the character has nowhere to build. If anything needs to develop, it’s the songs journeys and the clarity of the ending, but otherwise as a debut piece of work it’s fairly impressive.
The Mistress Cycle is at the Landor Theatre until 9th March 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.