I don't know what it is about Graeme Garden. On I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue, he can turn me into a quivering blob of hysterical merriment, but in the theatre... His adaptation of a Feydeau farce might have been written by a professor out to prove his thesis that the Frenchman could not raise a laugh. Now The Pocket Orchestra arrives, posing three, not very interesting, questions: What is it meant to be? Who is it for? and Why was it thought suitable for public exhibition? "London can take it" is one of my mottoes, but haven't we been through enough?
Garden can shift some of the blame to Callum McLeod, who, along with arranging music by composers from Lully to Stravinsky, puts his hand up for the "concept," which I'm still puzzling over. Is it an entertainment for listeners to Radio 3? Is it a series of comic sketches? Or is it a way of experiencing childhood pleasures for music students whose parents never gave them a party? Sometimes the show does not attempt to be more than a string of brief excerpts from the classics. We're told that, when Verdi died, Gershwin was three years old, there is a snip of Rhapsody in Blue, then the interval. I'm still waiting for the punch line.
Eventhose youths who are driven, screaming, from shopping precincts by Beethoven, would agree that the music provides welcome relief from the jokes. Every 10 minutes the theme of EastEnders starts up, and we are down the pub with Mr and Mrs Schumann and Brahms, who is shocked at Liszt's behaviour; "Moved the joanna! Would you Adam and Eve it!"
Bits of Dvorak, Grieg, and others are played while we are shown the names of products that use the music in TV commercials. Chopin staggers in, coughing into a handkerchief covered with red spots. At least, I think these were meant to be jokes. Richard Williams's production, with its hard-working cast, might just cut the mustard as an entertainment for the lower forms of a music school or the passengers of an upmarket cruise ship. But it would have to ditch the frightening costume worn by the compere, Sylvester McCoy, who decided it would be hilarious to play his spoons on my shoulder, knee, and ankle. As another composer, Noël Coward, once said, not a good idea.
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