First Night: Third time lucky for love triangle

'Martin Guerre' West Yorkshire Playhouse
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The Independent Online
THE OLD adage that musicals are not written but rewritten applies with unflagging force to Martin Guerre, which now emerges in its third incarnation in Conall Morrison's strikingly starker and more involving production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. This Boublil/Schonberg show had its West End premiere in the summer of 1996. The reviews were distinctly unenthusiastic and the piece was substantially revised for a relaunch that November.

Depending on taste, you could say that the improvement then was either a further distortion of the original material or an adroit consolidation of the author's rethink. Given the legend of a man who usurps the name and the wife of a friend he has seen die in battle, the obvious central theme for a musical version could have been the teasing elusiveness of identity and love. But such a subtle, fugitive subject does not suit the open-throated, four-square musical talents of the duo who gave us Les Mis and Miss Saigon. So they simply reversed foreground and background.

What is extremely impressive in this latest resurrection is the shrewd lessons that have been learnt from past musical mistakes. That plangent duet "Here Comes the Morning" always sounded like a gay love song when delivered by the two male leads on the battlefield. It now makes much more dramatic sense, shifted and given a new lyric, as a moving expression of the painful triangle that is formed when Martin returns and Arnaud is thrust in prison.

Likewise, the show's biggest number "And All I Know" is rewritten and kept back until the very end of the first half when the duet is forced, thrillingly, to battle against the bigotry of the chorus. In rich, stirring voice, Joanna Riding give the role of Bertrande a hitherto unsuspected subtlety. It is time we reversed the old gag: C'est "Martin Guerre" et c'est magnifique.