Saturday, August 05, 2017

.....COMMITTEE..... at the Donmar: Sing Out Those Sentences Camila!

COMMITTEE.... not the best musical title eh?  It's not even COMMITTEE!  It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single word musical title needs an exclamation mark to really give it that zing.  Ah but Constant Reader, that's because COMMITTEE isn't actually called that...  Got your reading eyes in?

The actual title is THE PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE TAKES ORAL EVIDENCE ON WHITEHALL'S RELATIONSHIP WITH KID'S COMPANY.  Try and get that on a badge and a mug for the merch stand.  The title nearly lasts longer than the show as it runs only 80 minutes.

Is there any reason for this show to be a musical?  No.  Is there any reason for this Committee to be a show?  Actually I would say yes as it was constantly interesting to observe two immovable objects colliding: the Government and Camila Batmanghelidjh the self-publicizing CEO of the children's charity that spectacularly crashed and burned in 2015.  Donmar artistic director Josie Rourke and the inexplicably-popular actor (at the Donmar anyway) Hadley Fraser wrote it while Tom Deering is the composer of a score that is ever-present but only there to string the words together.

I was never bored - at 80 minutes there really is no time to be bored - but I was exasperated by the twee doodlings that passed as songs.  With the Committee chair Bernard Jenkin becoming increasingly exasperated at Batmanghelidjh and Trustee Chariman Alan Yentob's (yes, him from the BBC) refusal to answer even the most basic questions allied to her larger-than-life personality and his preening ego, you would think that grand themes could be found for them but no.  Wispy tunes go in one ear and out the other...

Being a worker in the Third Sector, I found the dissection of the catastrophic situation that the charity allowed itself to get into fascinating.  I have always been immune to the cult of personality that was Camila Batmanghelidjh - her standard bleat being that any criticism of her or her charity must mean that the questioner was against helping any under-privileged children and was probably racist too.  To see her shown to be the smoke and mirrors expert she was, with her spurious claims to be a registered psychotherapist and her outlandish threats to use her unique access to tv and print media to get what she wanted, was schadenfreude of the highest quality.

The trouble with the show - as with any verbatim theatre - is that ultimately the writer / adapter can never show any real stance either way: so Batmanghelidjh is seen dodging questions with lumbering ability but is then given a big song about how she is just doing it for her children without any sense of irony.  It's like the text is showing her to be untrustworthy but the writers desperately still want to present her as a heroine.  No such qualms with Alan Yentob who is shown to be name-dropping and self-important, and indeed it is his character that provides the climactic blunder when he tells the committee that there was never any real need to worry about Kid's Company finances as the Government would always give them money.

I suspect we had an insider audience on our night as there was lots of knowing laughs at innocuous lines, it did feel like there was a level just playing to that part of the peanut gallery.  What I also found vaguely annoying was that the show just stops dead - there was a lot of set-up with civil servants telling you who all the participants were, what the background was and the purpose behind the committee.  But the show ended with the Chairman thanking the two witnesses amid shuffling papers.  It all seemed to suggest that there was no real reason for it or the audience to have shown an interest in the past 80 minutes.

For me, the show failed because of it's inconclusive structure and drab score but it was briskly directed by Adam Penford and the bland, neutral committee room was well duplicated by Robert Jones.  Luckily too, there were some real stand-out performances: Sandra Marvin was very impressive as Batmanghelidjh, negotiating the odd Sin-Bin trough in the stage with her padding and large frock, but she shone through all that to deliver an impassioned performance.  Sadly Omar Ebrahim as Alan Yentob had no match to Sandra's charisma and his opera voice was too top-heavy for the score.

I really liked Alexander Hanson's performance of Bernard Jenkin, the suave chair of the committee who looked very happy at the prospect of getting the 8am interview slot on the Radio 4 TODAY programme but I liked the way he showed Jenkin becoming more and more rattled by his witness' stone-walling.  Anthony O'Donnell as very good as the combatitive Welsh Labour MP Paul Flynn as was Robert Hands as the milder David Jones MP.

There were also sparkling performances too from Rosemary Ashe as a terrier-like Kate Hoey (landing her difficult accent to a tee) and Rebecca Lock - standing in for an absent Liz Robertson - as the Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan; patronizing, condescending and blithely mispronouncing 'Batmanghelidjh', Lock nailed the archetype Tory female to perfection.

So in conclusion: if you are going to make a musical then write music to lift the show and if you are going to do verbatim theatre musicals - don't.

No comments: