wed 17/07/2024

The Lady or the Tiger, Orange Tree Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

The Lady or the Tiger, Orange Tree Theatre

The Lady or the Tiger, Orange Tree Theatre

Toothless Tiger fails to earn its stripes

Big cat without claws: Andrew C Wadsworth and Riona O ConnorRobert Day

Endure this bafflingly pointless, sparsely staged and hopelessly dated musical, and you might find that the prospect of bloody death in the jaws of an enraged tiger somewhat loses its sting; you certainly won’t care whether that’s the fate in store for the show’s bland balladeer hero.

A curious concoction of forgettable chirpy ditties, half-hearted satire and lots of twee larking about that is reminiscent of children’s television from 40 years ago, The Lady or the Tiger's downright weirdness doesn’t make it any less unrewarding.

Apparently the original 1975 production, at the Orange Tree’s former home atop the pub opposite its current premises, was a runaway hit, and this staging by Sam Walters is the work’s third revival. Whatever charm those audiences of earlier decades may have perceived in the piece is decidedly absent this time around. Michael Richmond and Jeremy Paul’s book, based on a story by Frank Stockton, delineates a fable of a despotic monarch, his wily factotum, his sex-starved daughter and her guitar-strumming lover. Once the minstrel’s corruption of the virginal princess is discovered, he is sentenced by the psychotic king to a perilous trial: in an arena, he must choose between two doors, one of which conceals a voluptuous woman, the other the titular big cat. The princess is as perturbed by the situation as her beloved: would she prefer to sacrifice him to the feline or the female?

If she really loved him, of course, there would be no dilemma. But there are no real feelings, and no real characters here; nor is there the faintest pulse of dramatic tension. The bouncy, juvenile flavour of the narrative makes a queasy accompaniment to the whiff of darker themes: the king’s insistence on involuntary euthanasia at 65, for example, or his creepy imposition of compulsory orgies and possessive fascination with his own pulchritudinous offspring. Both score and story recall Gilbert and Sullivan and Stephen Schwartz (I was particularly reminded of Schwartz’s Pippin, which shares a similar sense of fairytale whimsy). But the songs, composed by erstwhile Chantelles singer Nola York with lyrics by Richmond, combine bright, perky, disposable melodies with tortured wordplay, and if anything impede the already laboured action rather than lending it any additional dimension of interest.

With sparky support from an onstage musical duo playing keyboards, strings, percussion and occasional brass, Andrew C Wadsworth is agreeably wry and nimble as the factotum, Riona O Connor undulates and makes eyes for all she’s worth and sings lustily as the princess, and Howard Samuels as the king is suitably leeringly unhinged. But Eke Chukwu is a wooden hero, and Walters’ production looks low-rent and feels tooth-grindingly slow. Never mind which door conceals the tiger; the only one that really matters is marked Exit.

There are no real feelings, and no real characters here; nor is there the faintest pulse of dramatic tension

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I am amazed by this lack lustre review! Sam Marlowe has obsviously lost all sense of fun and christmas sparkle. My experience of the show was completely different. I sat in an audience full of people who were bright enough and on the ball enough to catch a script littered with fun! The performances were bright and breezy and the music so catchy I am still humming it as I speak a week later! What a delight to go to the theatre and see something different and quirky, fun and perky! I have seen all three productions of this show - and each time it delights. You only have to see the smiles on the faces of the audience to see that it reaches the parts that other musicals cannot reach. I highly recommend it!

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