Violet – Review

Violet: Charing Cross Theatre, London

Reviewed 19th January 2019 (preview performance)

★★★

Based on the short story ‘The Ugliest Pilgrim‘ by Doris Betts, VIOLET tells the story of Violet, a young woman with facial disfigurement, as she embarks on a life-changing journey across the country to where she hopes she will find a miracle. This UK premiere features music by Jeanine Tesori (Tony Award winner for Best Original Score with Lisa Kron for the musical Fun Home, and Tony nominated scores for Caroline, Or Change, Shrek The Musical and Thoroughly Modern Millie) and Book & Lyrics by Brian Crawley. Violet has also won the Drama Critics’ Circle Award and Lucille Lortel Award as Best Musical and been nominated for four Tony Awards.

The traverse staging of this show is unlike others recently shown at the Charing Cross Theatre and works well. A revolve has been installed for this production and again works well to ensure good sightlines for all the audience. Whilst the staging does work, it doesn’t particularly add anything to the show and lacks impact. Lighting by Howard Hudson helps to focus on the characters and their journey, the subtle changes in lighting to help differentiate between the past and present is particularly good. Only minimal props and set pieces are used and this combined with the near empty stage allows the audience to focus solely on the characters and their story.

Kaisa Hammarlund’s Violet is determined, awkward, desperate, troubled and yet confident and almost self-assured. Her vocals are powerful and strong throughout the show. Kaisa Hammarlund does not leave the stage during the 90 minute production and yet keeps high energy throughout. The storytelling through her whole body is fantastic and she truly emobodies Violet through her awkwardly hunched stance and erratic movements. The relationship between Violet, Monty and Flick is built up well and both Matthew Harvey and Jay Marsh deliver excellent performances. Jay Marsh’s vocals, in particular, really compliment the folk-country style of music and his soulful tone is wonderful to listen to. The ensemble play multiple roles throughout the show and each have their moment in the spotlight. For this performance Young Violet was played by Amy Mepham. For such a young performer her acting and command of the stage is brilliant. Amy sings with confidence and whilst her diction is sometimes unclear, the emotion behind the lyrics is particularly good for someone so young.

The story is well told but it does take a while to settle into the plot. Violet does not have a visible scar so those who know nothing of the story may find it hard initially to understand what is happening. During the show the audience are transported back and forth in time and this works very effectively. At times we are also shown the inner thoughts and dreams of Violet’s head. This concept is fantastic but some of these sections can be slightly confusing. However, the story which ultimately is about self-acceptance and self-love is charming and the romance element which runs subtly alongside this is cleverly interwoven and adds an extra dynamic.

Violet is definitely an interesting musical. Whilst the staging does not particularly add anything to the performance it is interesting to see a musical performed in the traverse style and it means all of the audience are close to the action. The country, folk style of musical includes some lovely harmonies and there are great chances for all of the cast to shine. Whilst it may not be a particularly memorable show, both in terms of the plot story or the songs, the show is performed brilliantly and is certainly an enjoyable production to watch and lose yourself in. Head down to the Charing Cross Theatre yourself to catch this UK premiere for yourself.

Violet runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until the 9th April 2019. For more information and tickets click here.

Photo Credit: Scott Rylander

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