Bagdad Cafe at the Old Vic
Since our favourite food spots are now reopening all across the UK, it is fitting for the first musical back at the Old Vic to be Bagdad Café. Based on the 1987 cult movie of the same name by Percy and Eleanore Adlon, the story hits home even more in 2021 with a lot of its themes – particularly loneliness (and overcoming it). Emma Rice and her theatre company Wise Children bring this adaptation not only to the stage but to the modern age.
Lost German traveller Jasmin (Patrycja Kujawska) knows less about where she is than the audience do when she stumbles across Brenda’s (Sandra Marvin) café somewhere along Route 66 in the Mojave desert. Coincidentally, both women seem to be fleeing destructive marriages, but each chooses to stay in this small oasis, almost static in time. We see menial tasks such as playing intruments and cleaning done through a different lens, and the literal revolving door of oddballs and eccentrics, from a stereotypical Hollywood hippie (Gareth Snook) to an Australian backpacker (Ewan Wardrop), keeps the show flowing. Admittedly, these tropes have not been seen in person for so long that they are probably welcomed more than they would be under normal circumstances. From Bach to reggae, tight choreography and musical numbers successfully introduce us to this charming production.
Love of opera seems to be a genetic trait in Brenda’s family, with her ex husband Sal (Le Gateau Chocolat) belting out a number, and her daughter Salomé (Nandi Bhebhe) harbouring an obsession. However, Le Gateau Chocolat’s operatic tone is marginally underused. He is confined to a car at the very front of the stage when there is a whole desert to work with behind him. If leads Marvin and Kujawska weren’t carrying the show so well, then perhaps the background characters would have been given the amount of stage time they deserve.
Meanwhile, in the foreground, Lez Brotherston and Vicki Mortimer’s set design is impressively executed. They somehow manage to channel the vast desert onto one stage, which is even equipped with tumbleweed. Fittingly, miniature models and puppets make up the outside world, demonstrating just how small it all is when compared to the huge café. Despite referencing Bagdad, the wonder and whimsy of this musical mean it can be set anywhere, anytime. This truly is a magical world centred in reality. The ending yields a rendition of their hit song, Calling You, performed by fans over Zoom. Socially distancing cannot stop everyone coming together. Hope is something everyone needs, and the performance definitely supplies it.
Photo: Steve Tanner
Bagdad Cafe is at the Old Vic from 17th July until 21st August 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.