If you thought not being allowed to eat during Virginia Woolf was bad enough, just take a look at the dos and don’ts of watching the quirky musical, The Frogs.
No coughing, no guffawing, no phones (natch), sweets, loo breaks or farting. Basically, sit still and (silently) enjoy the show. As an opening musical number “Invocation and Instructions to the Audience” takes some beating.
But then The Frogs, which has just opened at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre, is far from your average show.
For starters the comedy originated in Ancient Greece. Written in 405BC by Aristophanes it went on to win a bunch of awards before being forgotten about for..well..centuries.
It eventually won the attention of Yale academic and playwright Burt Shevelove who, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, re-wrote and revived it in 1974 before Broadway star Nathan Lane had another go in 2000.
The Frogs is, at best, a novelty. It has never found great success on stage though perhaps it needed to find the right audience. In London its entire run was sold out before the opening night notices had even been written.
The story is about a road trip to hell, literally, taken by the Greek God Dionysos and his slave, Xanthias.
Dionysos, disillusioned with the unstable state of the world, believes salvation lies in boosting the arts.
As political and social unrest, globally, is on the rise we do find, coincidentally, our government’s support of the arts being slashed with galleries, theatres and opera houses are struggling to survive so maybe he has a point.
Is culture the way to overcome hostility, war and lethargy? It’s an interesting notion.
The God of theatre, among other things, pins his hope on bringing the writer George Bernard Shaw back from Hades to pen new and inspirational work.
I can’t say that Shaw would be my first choice and Dionysos, too, has a wobble, when Shakespeare, another resident of Pluto’s Underworld, appears and creates a dilemma. The Bard or Bernard? Only a duel of words can decide.
Michael Matus’s Dionysos is jovial, slightly effete and rather skittish. He’s frightened of frogs – the faceless masses – that throng about but he finds the courage to make an impossible journey for the sake of mankind.
But George Rae, as his slave, Xanthias, is wasted, given little to do other than make the odd lame wisecrack.
It’s Jonathan Wadey’s pot-smoking Keith Richards-inspired boatman, Charon, who steals the show with an off-the-wall and totally stoned performance. Wadey also delivers a madcap turn as Pluto’s servant, Aekos.
Sadly, I found the whole thing terribly hard work. The comedy isn’t funny enough, the political metaphors not strong enough and the performances by its two main characters lacked power and personality.
Worse, director/ producer Grace Wessels makes no effort over Martin Dickinson’s portrayal of Shaw neither with the accent, costume or appearance. It all looks cheaply produced.
Sondheim’s songs lacked melody. There isn’t a single tune that sticks in the brain. For all its adaptations, this oddity is disjointed and rambling.
Playing at Jermyn Street Theatre until April 8.
Rambling, quirky & only occasionally funny. Nathan Lane’s adaptation of The Frogs, at London’s Jermyn St Theatre, is a novelty comedy best forgotten.