When you go to a musical, the sounds you expect to hear coming from the audience are laughter, cheering and applause. What you don’t expect to hear is sniggering but I’m afraid that sound was to the fore at the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon during last night’s performance of Carnival Dreams: The Musical. There was sniggering at the ludicrous plot, the trite, clichéd dialogue and the instantly forgettable music and lyrics.
Let’s start with the plot such as it was. Set in Argentina during the carnival season, it’s ostensibly about a group of teenagers being schooled to win a samba competition. There are also a number of sub-plots including spousal abuse, teenage love, closet homosexuality, prostitution, gay bashing, murder and madness!
Why it’s set in Argentina I have no idea – apart from the contrived carnival dance competition plot. The actors don’t look vaguely Argentinian, they don’t talk like Argentinians and there’s no real reference to Argentina – except for their names and one character wearing an Argentinian national football shirt. In one song there’s a mention of “endless cups of tea” – in Argentina?! Then in another the lyric uses the phrase “Even for a few quid”, followed by dialogue asking for “pesos”! Later on Carmen (the stereotypical gay transvestite character) tells an tired, old joke about selling herself for dollars and cents! As I said, there’s nothing Argentinian about the show and the dialogue and story would have been just at home in Manchester, Birmingham – or indeed in Croydon. However right at the end a new character appears to collect a prize and says in a thick South American accent “Muchos Gracias Senor”!
The main “selling point” of the show is Cheryl Fergison who’s so important, that her name is above the title. If you haven’t heard of Cheryl (me neither), she had a long run in “Eastenders” as “Heather Trott”. In the show she plays the downtrodden Teresa. whose bible quoting drunk of a husband Jose, goes on to stab their daughter Christina to death. He later gets his comeuppance from a group of darkly overalled prisoners whilst they sing a song called “The Lowest Of The Low” in which they intone about being “shysters and vermin” as they beat Jose (the titular lowest of the low) to death.
This is one of those musicals that make you wonder who gave it the green light and who in their right minds would put money into it. There are hundreds of superbly written musicals out there that never see the light of day and yet something like this gets put on in a prestigious south London theatre. Norman Mark’s book and lyrics are not up to scratch. Mr Mark is an ex-psychiatric nurse who as well as writing musicals, runs a training company that focuses on equality, diversity and social care and has tacked on to the end of the show a moral that patronisingly tells us that we’re all created equally and whatever our sexual orientation or ethnicity, we’re all just the same.
Robert Orledge’s mish-mash of musical styles contains echoes of Gershwin, Lloyd Webber and Claude-Michel Schonberg amongst others but those echoes are very faint.
The staging is just plain confusing. You’re never sure where and when the action is taking place – a few neon signs do not a red-light district make and the motivations and actions of the main characters make no sense whatsoever.
The seemingly under-rehearsed young ensemble work very hard with the paucity of material they’ve been given and last night they also had to contend with mics that didn’t always work and when they did were either too loud, too quiet or echoey whilst being backed by an underpowered four-piece band.
This is just a very poor show, the sort you might expect to see on a budget cruise ship. Had I seen this on such a cruise, I think I’d have thrown myself overboard at the interval.
Review by Alan Fitter
Carnival Dreams: The Musical
It’s Carnival time in Argentina and a small community dance group are preparing for the annual Samba competition.
Whilst fighting his own inner demons, former dance champion Andre tries to instill a passion to succeed but senior dance tutor Jose’s bullying and bigotry does little to raise morale. Jose is consumed with contempt for the people who surround him. A bible-quoting misogynist who physically and mentally abuses his wife Teresa, Jose delights in trying to humiliate the flamboyantly camp drag queen Carmen and is determined to quash the growing romance between his daughter Cristina and Duarte, whose only crime is the colour of his skin. When the embittered Maria persuades Teresa and Cristina to escape Jose’s clutches, a heart-wrenching tragedy unfolds. Can the dance troupe survive and win against this adversity?
Carnival Dreams: The Musical
Wednesday 3th – Saturday 6th February 2016
Suitable for ages 12+