What's Hot in London -- July 1997

What's Hot in London -- July 1997 THE FIX : Clearly The Fix (Donmar Warehouse) still needs some fixing, but for those who like their musicals by Sondheim out of Kander and Ebb, this is indeed a knife-edged and courageously rock-edged score by two unknown Americans, John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe, which unlike almost any other in town is totally original insofar as it has no movie, play or best-selling novel in its background.

THE FIX : Clearly The Fix (Donmar Warehouse) still needs some fixing, but for those who like their musicals by Sondheim out of Kander and Ebb, this is indeed a knife-edged and courageously rock-edged score by two unknown Americans, John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe, which unlike almost any other in town is totally original insofar as it has no movie, play or best-selling novel in its background.

Or rather it has several: You could trace the origins of The Fix back to such paranoid Washington conspiracy thrillers as The Manchurian Candidate, or forward to any sleaze-tabloid life of the Kennedys. Indeed, by the end of an increasingly frantic evening, we seem to have a child from The Omen, Marilyn Monroe from The Seven Year Itch having that famous dress blown above her waist, and the Mafia all demanding revenge for the betrayal of their boy in the White House.

As you may already have gathered, the book of The Fix is something of a shambles; it opens with the death of a Presidential candidate and the decision by his wife, played by Kathryn Evans somewhere halfway from Lady Macbeth to Rose Kennedy, that if she can't be a President's wife, she can at least be his mother. Aided and abetted by her own gay, stammering, wheelchair-bound brother-in-law, who forces his own nephew to have sex with him in one of the show's moments of bad taste, the mother from Washington depths gets her boy (played by Sunset Boulevard's John Barrowman) within spitting distance of the White House only to have him killed, in a Christlike crucifixion, by the Mafia who seem to have stumbled in from some altogether different plot.

And that, rather than the score or the playing, is what goes wrong with The Fix; its creators appear to have set out on a blood-stained Washington satire only to get caught up in a plot of such complexity that even they have trouble in working it through in time for the final one-man massacre.

Even with a score of wondrous variety (everything from rock through soft-shoe shuffles to ballads of lost love), it never quite gets itself together in time to save a fragmented storyline. The result is a black cartoon parody of White House excess and American dreams turned into nightmares: incest, rape, murder, madness‹everything that makes Washington politics so much more fun than our own‹are here jammed into a manic musical farce about a would-be First Family so dysfunctional as to make the Borgias look like the Blairs. Sometimes a rock version of I Claudius, at others Camelot rewritten by Brecht, Weill and Harold Robbins, The Fix is as misshapen as its central characters and at best a Guys and Dolls rewritten in blood and acid; in the end it really doesn't quite work, not least because Sam Mendes's agile production drifts hopelessly into caricature.

But never since the arrival of Sondheim and Kander/Ebb, and we are talking at least 30 years here, have I been so sure of a new American musical talent. Not for the first time (that was Boublil and Schönberg), Cameron Mackintosh has found a songwriting team of real theatrical excitement; it's just that this one still has a longer route to travel backstage until they get it right. Nevertheless, on a space-restricted Warehouse stage, the choreographer Charles Augins has managed some of the most breath-taking musical routines in town.

DOÑA ROSITA THE SPINSTER At the neighboring Almeida, now far and away the most fashionable of all London theatres and sometimes also the most inventive, the director Phyllida Lloyd and the translator-poet Peter Oswald have come up with a rich and rare treat, Lorca's Doña Rosita the Spinster, which though written in his richest dramatic period, just between Yerma and Bernarda Alba in 1935, remains curiously unknown.

A wonderfully starry cast (Eleanor Bron, Phoebe Nicholls, Clive Swift, Celia Imrie and Complicite's Kathryn Hunter) now bring to life a bittersweet folk-fable about love and betrayal and loneliness and the ravages of time, in which each character gets his or her moment center stage to explain precisely what has gone so wrong with the life they originally envisaged.

In Italy around the time of its writing, this would have been Eduardo de Filippo territory; in Britain 40 years later, something approaching middle-period Alan Ayckbourn, and a century before that it would, of course, have been Chekhov. But what marks out Lorca's unique territory is that constant sense of a chill coming over sunny evenings, of man destroying God's work, of women doomed to be loved and lost.

MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION: On the road is Mrs. Warren's Profession in a sturdy if not hugely exciting production by Alan Strachan for the Touring Partnership, a group of regional theatres that have wisely formed themselves into a network of shared costs. Penelope Keith stars as the unrepentant brothel owner in the play that (though rather less powerful than Widowers' Houses or Major Barbara with which it shares the common theme of "distasteful" moneymaking) remains one of Shaw's briskest and most timely of dramas. Carolyn Backhouse is suitably unforgiving as Vivie, first of the modern feminists, but this remains a dutiful rather than revelatory revival.

-- By Sheridan Morley