The then Prince Of Wales met Wallis Simpson for the first time in 1930, where a friendship was born. Wallis was already into her second marriage, but this did not stop her from seeing the Prince Of Wales and their friendship blossomed into love. As news of their close encounters became known in the American press, but kept quite in the British Press, pressures were put upon them to end the relationship. However, their love by now was too great and Wallis asked for a divorce from her husband so she could be free to marry The Prince Of Wales. However, the Prince's father died leaving him King, so he had to take his place on the throne. But the British Parliament would not allow him to marry Wallis Simpson because of her improper past. The King now had to choose between the throne and the woman he loved.
What a sad story, a man having to make the ultimate sacrifice for the woman he loves. The question is, how well have the writers transformed this story in to a musical? Quite well in my opinion!
The show which lasts for nearly three hours is a little tacky to start with. There are some really ‘corny’ lines making it all seem a little unrealistic and amateurish. I was thinking to myself, this is going to be quite painful. But no, it was not, and as the show progresses you begin to empathise more for the characters and their hopeless plight as two lovers with the whole world against them.
CLIVE CARTER who plays the ‘King’ takes a little getting used to at first. I found him hard to take seriously, he looked and acted like a silly schoolboy, yet funnily enough it is this vulnerability that convinces you of the part. JAN HARTLEY who plays ‘Wallis Simpson’, is well cast, playing the tormented mistress who has to cope with the knowledge that most of the British people hold her responsible for the King’s plight. She sings very well and looks every bit the part. SHEILA FERGUSON playing the role of ‘Analise L’Avender’, a night club dancer, is wonderful as she sings one of the best songs of the show , "Love’s Carousel". This scene is one of the highlights of the musical with some great imagery and inventiveness used in creating a mock carousel .
I was a little disappointed that the character of ‘Aunt Bessie’ was not explored more, she really didn’t seem to serve any useful purpose. So when SHANI WALLIS who played the part started to sing the song ‘The Reason For Life is To Love’, after Mrs Simpson had asked her how she has coped since her husband died, it really seemed quite out of place.
The music is not fantastic, and does not have great variety as you get the same tunes re-mixed, and for a show as long as this, that’s a lot of re-mixing. However the tunes are quite good and memorable. I was humming the tunes as I was leaving the auditorium, as were others, this is usually a sign that the show has been enjoyed.
Trying to make a musical of such a subject was always going to be difficult. After all there has been much written about the couple, good , bad and indifferent, but I think the writers have just about got the right balance. There is no in depth look at the characters, you don’t really get to know anything about them, other than they love each other. The show concentrates on their love and nothing else, which I think is the best way to make this kind of musical work. If they had tried to make the characters too deep, by looking at other aspects of their life then maybe the show would have lost the main point, which is how much a person is willing to sacrifice for the love of another.
The show has received very bad notices from the popular press. NICK CURTIS of THE EVENING STANDARD written an awful review of the show saying, "There have been dud musicals this year, but nothing to match this gloriously mis-guided attempt by novice writers William May and Jason Sprague" he goes on to say " The tunes are bland and repetitive, the lyrics staggeringly banal." LYN GARDNER of THE GUARDIAN is not impressed either, saying the show lacks "anything approaching a good tune." and in reference to the 28 scenes in the show, goes on to say " The authors appear to have imagined that they were writing a movie not a musical." There is a luke warm response from CHARLES SPENCER of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH, “It's not that bad. But it must emphatically be added that it's no that good either.” he then goes on to say the production is “slick but hollow” and concludes “I fear the show's run is doomed to be a deal briefer than Edward VIII's reign.” BILL HAGERTY of THE NEWS OF THE WORLD describes the show has having, "insipid songs, unimaginative choreography and dialogue."
This is not by any means a great musical and it certainly has some faults, but nethertheless it is competent and quite charming with some fine tunes and so makes for a pleasant evening out.
Just as it seemed Jolson would never end, the biomusical that looked set to make the Victoria Palace it's permanent home, the final curtain fell on this tourist-appealing spectacular. Plans were already afoot to appeal to more tourist with a new musical from the other side of the world. Always. The story of the king who never was, Edward VIII, and Mrs Simpson. With a cast headed by Clive Carter and Jan Hartley, this is no mega-star musical but rather a selection of solid, well respected musical theatre actors.
There is potentially much to make of this well known yarn. It has all the essential ingredients of fairy tale: royalty, endless love, divided loyalties... often described as the ultimate love story. You may think it impossible to capture such a story on stage. It seems the authors of Always hold a similar view, as they barely try to fit a plot into this dreadful piece. The first act stretches out the early liaisons between the Prince of Wales and Wallace Simpson for a full hour and a quarter. Leaving the equally dull second act to deal with Edvard VIII as King.
This piece of theatre is built, it seems, entirely on characterisations, so it is fortunate that the lead parts are played with certain skill. Carter is very good and never falls into the obvious characatures that have so many other actors have used for Edward VIII. Jan Hartley offers an equally original Mrs Simpson, though is prone to occasional bouts of insincere acting. A very curious character in the shape of Shani Wallace's Aunt Betsy seems oddly out of place in the ultra-thin plot, though that hasn't stopped the director giving her undue prominence with her own solo.
The score consists of some truly unmemorable pieces with dubious and cras lyrics the fail to add promise. The one recurring melody is the title theme, and is, by stark contrast, quite strong. Carter sings numerous time of 'Always', an imaginary idyll where he longs to take Mrs Simpson. I just wanted to go home. The 'tunes' are reminiscent of Lloyd-Webber's Aspect of Love. It is a brave man who plagiarises the plagiarist. The trite script attempted to raise chuckles that most of the audience seemed embarrassed about expressing.
Two excellent leads and small number of effective visual numbers that include a merry-go-round (I won't spoil the predictable metaphor) and dancing waiters and chefs, save this bland, predictable production from a premature death. The critics will hate it, the tourists will love it.
A pleasing musical depicting the romantic tale of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee who enchanted the Prince of Wales and brought about a constitutional crisis that threatened Britain's monarchy.
The show is held together by Clive Carter as Edward (also known as David) who commands the audience with his captivating stage presence. He has a strong and controlled singing voice, and made the character warm and likable. He had a strong Wallis to work with, Jan Hartley is an experienced performer, who tackled the songs well, and acted the emotional scenes superbly.
Sheila Fergusson, formerly lead singer of The Three Degrees, made a huge impact in her cameo role as a nightclub singer in France, fronting the big production number, "Love' Carousel", which showed off Thommie Walsh's choreography off beautifully. Shani Wallis, best known for playing Nancy in the film version of the musical "Oliver" was excellent as Aunt Bessie, was well received.
The set was refreshingly simple, but glitzy where necessary. William May and Jason Sprague have written some very good songs, notible the title number, although one or two would benefit from some reworking .There was a need to pick up the pace at times, but on the whole this is a fun show, and well worth a visit.