Theatre / The Fields of Ambrosia Aldwich Theatre, London
Friday 02 February 1996
An ex-con who's gone about as straight as a hairpin bend, Mr Higgins' likeable scapegrace of an executioner, Jonas Candide, has a lovely chairside manner. As he straps in a condemned man, he makes a point of singing him a song about the paradisial future to which he is being dispatched: "The fields of ambrosia/ Where everyone knows ya". Admittedly, the heaven he paints might not be to everybody's taste. "You can sit by a creek and go fishin' for ever" conjures up visions of being stuck for eternity with a load of Anglican anglers.
As a musical character, Jonas is in a long line of charming frauds, outsiders whose relaxed disreputability brings the communities they visit to life. The twist, worthy of either Lope de Vega or some very lame movie, is that Jonas falls in love with his first female client, Gretchen, a young Austrian adventuress who may (or may not) have killed her last sugar daddy. Before you can say trip switch, Gretchen, who is sung with an intriguing timbre by the pure-voiced Christine Andreas, is trying to bypass her electrical fate via Jonas' crotch.
The second half of the show left this critic weak with bliss as it trampled over good taste and political correctness like a herd of bullocks. One way it tries to stick up for the "love" between the two main characters is to intimate that the prison is otherwise a hotbed of filthy perversion. A big, butch warder (Mark Heenehan), who is Jonas' violent rival for Gretchen's favours, evidently consoles himself with impressionable male convicts.
Marc Joseph's scrawny young mortician, a signal failure with women, finds himself raped by two prisoners. "If it ain't one thing, it's another" is the inspired opening line of his subsequent song about the family deprivation that has made him this isolated victim. Rarely, you feel, can loneliness have been quite so stagestruck, as you listen to Mr Joseph hollering "Alone, all alone". Certainly, his is a decibel-rich need that would empty rooms with some rapidity.
Often very funny in its own right, the show has a number of moments where it seems to be tone deaf to its own ridiculousness. To sing about letting sleeping dogs lie when you have a comatose rat on your operating table, as Michael Fenton Stevens's whisky doctor does, is to throw the cat among the pigeons, sense-wise. With high-voltage performances all round, though, and a strong so-bad-it's-good factor, this show makes a pretty sunny vacation from seriousness and propriety.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Emma Watson on Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak: 'Even worse than seeing women's privacy violated is reading the comments'
- 2 Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
- 3 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 4 Cee Lo Green: It is only rape if the victim is conscious
- 5 Nigerian witch-finder Helen Ukpabio threatens legal action against human rights organisations
Scottish independence referendum: Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai and Frightened Rabbit to play in support of Yes campaign
Jessica Chastain demands Scarlett Johansson-fronted Marvel superhero movie
Downton Abbey series 5 start date revealed: ITV drama to return in late September
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
Olivia Colman and Mary Berry top Radio Times' female power list
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ashya King: 'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain