First Night: Gone With The Wind, New London Theatre, London

3.00

Winds of change resurrect some Southern comforts

You don't have to wait long for the line "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" in this new stage musical version of Gone With The Wind. You can read it, as you enter, emblazoned on the T-shirts and mugs at the merchandise stall. There are also aprons for sale that assert that "I'll never be hungry again".

It's an index of the huge popularity of the 1939 film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's novel that these phrases are etched on the collective consciousness and it's also a measure of what this musical has to live up to in attempting to tell the story in a different way. Trevor Nunn's production is the most anticipated tuner of the season but the word from the previews was worrying, with rumours of excessive length. Now trimmed to a not exactly terse three hours 40 minutes, the show is neither as bad as one feared nor as good as one has a right to expect.

In opening out this saga of cross-purpose love, set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, the most prominent innovation is the treatment of the black community who are here granted what they were there denied: a dignified, independent voice. The racism of the South is fully acknowledged. One great benefit is that the score is enriched with spirituals, blues and gospel music, spine-tinglingly well-sung by such cast members as Natasha Yvette Williams's loveably sassy Mammy and Jina Burrows' Prissy.

But the drawback is that the well-intentioned liberal revisionism too often feels grafted-on apologetically. Once freed, the hapless Prissy has a sudden, unconvincing personality rethink and belts out her determination to learn to read and become a teacher. A dispute about responses to post-bellum whites is evasively resolved in a great whoosh of uplift in the anthem declaring that "if we close our hearts to hatred/And we open them to love/Hope will follow on the wings of a dove".

The rest of the score ranges from soppy, forgettable love songs to would-be witty, forgettable patter numbers to forgettable Irish airs about the Importance of the Land to... I forget. The story, perforce often rattled-through and perfunctory, has to rely heavily on spoken narration from figures stationed on the picket fence balcony that surrounds the curved wooden acting arena in John Napier's "environmental" design. I never thought that I'd pine for projections in a stage show but the far from awe-inspiring flash-bangs and set-collapses that evoke the burning of Atlanta; the distinctly under-populated spectacle of the Confederate dead; and the excitement-free rotating-wagon escape to Tara leave the hackneyed theatrical language of mimed horses and props looking in need of further support to register the requisite texture, tension and atmosphere.

The diabolically dashing Darius Danesh (of Pop Idol fame) brings a seductively insolent charm, a dark velvet voice and a genuine, fugitive pathos to the cynical blockade runner. If Jill Paice hasn't quite nailed the comic, outrageously feline wiliness of Scarlett, she boasts the bright, soaring vocal quality to convey the heroine's indomitable survivor's drive. The two performers are at their moving best when towards the end, each lost in their separate loneliness, they engage in an unconscious duet of marriage misery.

All the same, I was left wondering whether, on the whole, this quixotic enterprise takes us any deeper into the inner life of Gone With The Wind. The irony is that it's Max Steiner's superb score for the movie version, with its character motifs and achingly interwoven period tunes, that offers the true object lesson in how to use music dramatically.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits