Theatre review: Thoroughly monotonous Maddie

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
The makers of Maddie - not to mention a certain daily paper whose readers stumped up the pounds 150,000 to bring it into town - evidently think that it's our patriotic duty to love this show. A Brit team, you see, hasn't had a musical in the West End since Sunset Boulevard. So, nothing loath, I wrapped myself in the Flag and virtually threw myself at the stage in the effort to oblige. Trouble was, I kept meeting myself coming back wearing a slightly stricken expression.

Penned by Shaun McKenna and Steven Dexter, with music by Stephen Keeling, Maddie is set in San Francisco and tells the story of a peroxide Twenties starlet who was killed en route to a Hollywood screen-test and who, 50 odd years later, comes back to invade the body of another woman. This latter and her museum curator husband (Graham Bickley) have just moved into Maddie's old apartment, where, to make a dodgy marriage worse, hubby develops an obsession with the dead woman.

It's a rum thing: a musical about a body with two identities that has no identity of its own. You keep being reminded of everything from Blithe Spirit to On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Nothing will ever remind you of Maddie. An unnerving physical cross between Bette Midler and Maureen Lipman, Summer Rognlie shifts, with rapacious vigour, to and fro between the unhappy wife and the raunchy teeth 'n' thigh-baring Maddie - but the script gives her nothing to disguise the fact that both gals are bores to the core.

Inevitably, Maddie has one of those hollering "This Time It's ME!" Act 1 curtain-numbers - and when Ms Rognlie decides to sell a song, you buy it, or else. Inevitably, too, relations between the two differently unfulfilled women settles down to one of soggy sisterdom. When, by accident, Maddie invades another body - that of a superannuated predatory sexpot (played by Lynda Baron as a reprise of the Mae West she did at Southampton) - the comic potential is under-explored in favour of a song in which Maddie tells the wife that, in seducing her husband, she's really done her a favour: now she knows she has to work on that marriage...

The husband is a case-study in himself: the idea of making love to a strange woman who is using your wife's body as a vehicle makes outright infidelity seem quite a moral business by comparison. The show doesn't make nearly enough of the tragi-comic creepiness of this idea. In fact the whole shebang has a depressingly ersatz feel. It tots up the sum of its influences and arrives at the wrong number. For the most part, it's not what possesses its heroine that preoccupies you, but whatever possessed anyone to put it on.

Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Ave, London W1 (0171-494 5045)