The world premier of Guy de Maupassant’s novel Bel Ami couldn’t have come at a more topical time. Delving into the murky world of journalism and politics Bel Ami churns up a story of corruption, greed, immorality and hypocrisy at the highest echelons of society. Originally set in the 1880s it is rather worrying how easily this story befits its 21st Century guise with headline ink still drying on reports from the Leveson inquiry and subsequent trials.
This new musical is a product of London College of Music past and present. The show is performed by an alternating cast made up of the University’s BA Musical Theatre students and written by now professional alumni, Alex Loveless.
The story begins with George, a former soldier, homeless and begging to the faceless commuters at a London tube station. Through chance he meets a former comrade who etches out a position for him at a salacious rag more concerned with money and gossip than morality. As he climbs the ranks it becomes clear through his peers that the only way to succeed is to employ devious, manipulative tactics which he eventually exploits in order to enter the world of politics.
At the beginning you route for the underdog until you see him morph in to the world he inhabits. The difficulty with this story is that it is devoid of characters to sympathise with so as an audience you are left without an emotional hook to tie you in. The narrative at times was a little fragmented and the score whilst varied was a little out of touch. The motto ‘less is more’ should have been applied during the development process as little was left to the audience’s imagination – a nuance here or there would have had a far greater impact on the story.
That said, there were a number of notable performances from the cast. The lead role of George Dury was played spectacularly by Johnny Fitzharris who embodied the role incredibly well. Belting out tunes such as ‘Don’t Question Me’ with such a formidable force that it left you in no doubt as to his capabilities as a performer. The ensemble were fantastic and did well to set the scene creating brilliant moments to watch, such as the commuters journey and ‘Too Much Money,’ showing MPs frolicking in their Caribbean playground.
As a whole, London College of Music should be congratulated for this endeavour, inevitably there are aspects of this piece that could be more polished but it is a brave undertaking to achieve what they have and the cast certainly gave it their all.
Review by Stephanie Caiger-Watson
A present-day satire on celebrity, press corruption and politics, the show is set against the fictional backdrop of a US-led invasion of Iran. Its contemporary score includes rap, dance, rock and RnB.
Disillusioned former soldier George Dury joins the ranks of his friend’s newspaper, quickly becoming the editor of the celebrity gossip column ‘Bel-Ami’. Manipulating his way into the highest echelons of British society by charming, seducing and blackmailing those who cross his path, he is rewarded with ever-increasing wealth and prestige. But his ultimate goal will always be power.
Bel-Ami is the first university production to be staged in the West End. Part of the University of West London, LCM has a long-standing tradition of developing new musicals.
Charing Cross Theatre
The Arches, Villiers Street,
London, WC2N 6NL
Running time: Approximately 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval.
Bel-Ami is suitable for ages 14+
Dates 19th to 23rd February 2014
25th February to 1st March
Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm
Box office: 08444 930 650
Sunday 23rd February 2014