GROWN UP SHOW REVIEW: Violet, Charing Cross Theatre

Mummy and Mrs Mummy have been solo theatre tripping again. Charing Cross Theatre is a particular favourite of ours, not least because it is right by Ippudo. Ramen + theatre = heaven. Coincidentally, Mummy notes that Heaven is opposite Charing Cross Theatre and shudders at memories of days gone by. Mummy has never been cool enough for nightclubs and on the rare occasions when she has been dragged there by well-meaning lady gay friends, she has spent most of the evening sulking in the corner, terrified that somebody will make her dance. Mummy is very pleased that owning munchkins excuses her from any such behaviour for at least another 12 years. But anyway, Mummy digresses.

So, back to the show. Mrs Mummy went first, on Thursday evening. She reported back that she just about managed to stay awake throughout (which, as readers of previous blogs will be aware, is quite the feat for Mrs Mummy). She asserted that her pre-show plum wine at Ippudo was the most memorable part of the evening. She also muttered something about Violet feeling a little bit like Fun Home (unsurprising as the two share a composer) and having a similar message to Wicked.

Mummy went on Friday evening. It got off to a shaky start when Ippudo had run out of Goma Q, but took a turn for the better when Mummy discovered sparkling yuzu sake to make up for her disappointment. Mummy considered staying in Ippudo all night and drinking their entire supply of magical sake, but decided to settle for decamping to the Player’s Bar for a pre-show prosecco. Mummy rued her decision not to get two glasses when she remembered that Violet runs at 100 minutes with no interval. Schoolgirl error.

Mummy’s feelings on Violet are that it has something of a Wizard of Oz story to it. But less twee. Set predominantly on a greyhound bus trip, it simultaneously tells the story of a physical journey and a personal journey of discovery. Facially disfigured as a child, Violet (played superbly by Kaisa Hammarlund) is on a pilgrimage from North Carolina to Tulsa, where she plans on being healed by a TV preacher. Along her way, she befriends two poker-playing soldiers who end up vying for her affections. There are no particular surprises in the storyline. Predictably, the preacher cannot work miracles but Violet learns that beauty is only skin deep. Beyond this, there is limited character development, although this is attempted by bringing Violet’s memories to life in the form of Young Violet (a role shared by three young performers; Amy Mepham, Rebecca Nardin and Madeleine Sellman). Through these glimpses into Violet’s early life, the audience gains a sense of how she became the hardened, poker-playing woman we first meet on the Greyhound.

Her two compatriots are similarly lacking in depth (a fault Mummy attributes to the book and not the stellar cast). On the one hand there is lady’s man Monty (Matthew Harvey), a white special forces soldier who inexplicably becomes a changed man after a one night stand with Violet. And the more sensitive Flick (Jay Marsh), a black sergeant who identifies with Violet early on due to shared experiences of discrimination. There is no real depth to either character, and no particular sense of shock when Violet eventually chooses her man.

Plot issues aside, Violet was an enjoyable show. It started quite slowly, but really picked up pace once the Greyhound reached racy Memphis. A shift in musical tempo helped here, with a great performance from Angelica Allen as a Memphis Music Hall singer. This was followed by a rousing gospel number when Violet finally made it to Tulsa. It started to feel a little bit Color Purple at this stage, both in theme and musical styling. It became very moving as we saw Violet desperately want to believe that her scar had miraculously healed, but the resolution of the love triangle felt rather abrupt and unconvincing. Again, a flaw of the book and not the cast. Mummy also liked the new Charing Cross Theatre configuration, in which the audience feels closer to the action. And who doesn’t like a revolve?

All in all, Mummy felt that this was a fantastic production of a slightly less fantastic show and has decided to award it a rating of raindrops, whiskers and kettles (aka three out of five of my favourite things).