Mixed Reviews for London Martin Guerre

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14 Jul 1996

Cameron Mackintosh's £3.5 million musical Martin Guerre opened to mixes reviews July 10 in London. Expectations were high, considering the score was written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, the team responsible for Les Miserables and Miss Saigon.

Cameron Mackintosh's £3.5 million musical Martin Guerre opened to mixes reviews July 10 in London. Expectations were high, considering the score was written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, the team responsible for Les Miserables and Miss Saigon.

Here are excerpts from thereviews:

From Benedict Nightingale, The Times of London:

"Give Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg a weighty, harrowing tale set in some exotic clime or remote time -- a 17-year police chase across strife-riven France, or a grim love-saga unfolding in war-torn Vietnam -- and they can be guaranteed to make something powerful of it.

That was the conclusion many of us took from Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, and that's the conclusion some will doubtless take form the same team's latest musical, though last night its successes struck me as more sporadic, its emotions less overpowering, its dramatic uncertainties rather greater. . .



"The village accepts Iain Glen's returning chevalier without question, but his wife Bertrande sees straight through him, and, though she has been resisting a divorce out of earnest religious principle, instantly falls into the strangers arms and bed. With both of them singing that "all I know is that I want to be loving you," the implausibility of the encounter is hard to forgive, even though Schonberg couches it in his most soaring, upbeat music" . . .

"Juliette Caton is a sweet Bertrande with a dulcet voice, but Glen, though he pitches valiantly into his numbers, is a little less vocally exact. Never mind. He exudes warmth an authority, a cuts an attractive, imposing figure. You feel for him and his fate -- but not as much, I fear, as Boublil and Schonberg probably hoped."



From Jack Tinker, The Daily Mail:

"What with the upsurge of bloodthirsty religious certainties from Bosnia from Northern Ireland, the boys who brought us Les Mis and Miss Saigon must have thought that they were on to an instant crowd-pleaser here. By returning to the tumult of French history they were, after all, going back to the familiar roots which made their original fortune.

After all this classic story of duplicity, of stolen identity, of illicit love, has already produced two hugely successful movies and endless retellings. Moreover, the backdrop of 16th century religious bigotry in rural France no doubt persuaded Boublil and Schonberg that here were very fruitful modern parallels.

"Alas, it also seems to have blinded them to the subtle human passions, which are what makes the story of Martin Guerre the endlessly fascinating drama it has become. They have stripped it to the bare essentials and stayed mainly with its social and religious obsessions.

"However, instead of simplifying matters, this only confuses the absorbing human conundrums that lie at the heart of the piece. . .

"There is the familiar swelling of the Schonberg score to carry the evening along, but too much of this echoes hits we have known before. . .

"However, who am I to pour eau froide over the proceedings? An ecstatic audience roared its appreciation. And anyway, I am the one who said Les Mis was too long."

From Matt Wolf of Variety:

"The director's strengths are clear from several Breughel-esque tableaux, not to mention the Millet-like start and close of the show, as the villages mime their labor. He is helped, too, by a canny choreographer in Bob Avian, who couples the dance crazes du jour, Riverdance and Stomp, in various fiery step routines, one of which -- "Now You've Come Home" -- genuinely stops the show . . .
"The truth is that everyone involved seems caught in the crossfire of a show about identity that has no identity of its own, and t is that question mwhich must first be addressed if this Martin Guerre is to come out fighting."

From Michael Billington of The Guardian:

"All the qualities one looks for in the musical -- wit, passion, a heady ecstasy -- are conspicuously absent from this lugubrious, heavy-going spectacle."

From Paul Taylor of The Independent:

"The couple's love, their born-again Protestantism, the religious intolerance that threatens to tear them apart are all tackled with a spectacular shallowness. "All I know is that all I want to be is close to you," they warble in one of the more moving songs from a score that betrays its influences so often (a touch of Grieg here, a bit of Khachaturian there), it's like a through-sung IOU. . .
"With a fine, natural-sounding voice and a strikingly handsome presence, Iain Glen, as the hero, keeps reminding you that there is such a thing as human depth."