Without You, Menier Chocolate Factory, London
Thursday 13 September 2012
You would need a heart of stone to resist being moved, at least in part, by Anthony Rapp’s one-man musical memoir of love and loss. But you would not need to be a fully paid-up cynic to feel, uncomfortably, that what in essence you are witnessing here is an auto-therapy session in the guise of a solo concert.
In 1994, Rapp landed the role of Mark the film-maker in Rent, the rock musical, loosely modelled on La Bohème, which dramatised, in a spirit of defiance, the devastating effect of Aids on New York’s artistic community.
Famously, its composer Jonathan Larson died of an aortic aneurysm on the night before the show’s 1996 off- Broadway opening. The rest is theatrical history. The tragic self-reflexive dimension the piece had thus acquired was compounded for Rapp by the fact that as the downtown musical blossomed into a full-blown phenomenon, his mother’s life was being eaten away by cancer.
I have not read his 2006 best-selling book of the same name but I suspect that it must pull the parallels into sharper focus than this show does. Backed by a powerful five-piece band, the fadedly boyish Rapp belts out a mix of numbers from Rent and by REM , plus a few new songs he has co-authored, such as the banal, lachrymose “ Visits to You” and the more pointed and angry “Wild Bill” (which was his mother’s nickname for her tumour).
But as he charts the developments in his relationship with his dying parent (her belated acceptance, say, of his homosexuality), you’re struck by how many issues he leaves unaddressed or under-explored. Many years have now passed. Rapp, though, fails either to acknowledge any widening of his perspective on these matters or admit to a dependency on the past.
There’s a time-warp atmosphere to the show that sits oddly with its grief-counselling mantra: “The only way out is through.” And his resuscitation of his beloved mother (whose frail, sweet-natured voice he impersonates) seems to be claustrophobically confined to how he felt about her during her illness.
We learn more about the admiring baby book she kept about him than we do about any independent existence she might have enjoyed. The contrast would be with Rufus Wainwright whose grief for his mother Kate McGarrigle has been transmuted into an art profounder than self-help book catharsis in songs such as “Zebulon” and the last verse of “Montauk”. I’m afraid that I found Without You a long 70 minutes.
To 15 September (020 7378 1713)
Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Katie Hopkins gives rare glimpse of sensitive side with heartfelt open letter to her children penned in case she dies from epilepsy
- 2 Rihanna's Met Gala dress took one Chinese woman 2 years to make, was reduced to omelette meme in 2 seconds
- 3 Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
- 4 Women think Irish men are the sexiest, survey finds
- 5 Florida couple forced to register as sex offenders for having sex on public beach
Penny Dreadful, series 2 episode 1, review: It is still gloriously silly
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
Eurovision 2015: What date and time is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
Indiana Jones sequel confirmed by Lucasfilm - but will Harrison Ford return to the franchise?
How the Other Half Eat, Channel 4 - TV review: Swapping food trolleys shows how food and class are closely connected
In defence of liberal democracy
General Election 2015: Post-election 'shambles' looms as 70 per cent of voters say SNP 'should not be able to veto UK government policies'
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils