Martin Guerre

  • Date:
    Saturday, July 13, 1996

    I must say I am disappointed with this new Boubill & Schonberg musical presented by Cameron Mackintosh. Perhaps it is my fault because I was expecting something quite exceptional and unfortunately there wasn't anything exceptional about it. I found it was just your 'normal' musical. Typical sounding music, nothing new here, lyrics average and the sets are nothing special. With so much money spent and so much preparation etc., I did expect a lot more.

    However, even though the show doesn't break any new ground I still think it is a solid musical well worth seeing. The choreography of Bob Avian's is superb with some great foot stamping to the music, particularly with the song "Louison/Now You've Come Home" in Act 1, which for me was the best part of the show.

    The performance of the two leads, Iain Glen and Juliette Caton were fine, but Glen's voice could have been a little stronger. In fact the whole company performed adequately.

    The sets are very basic looking, with a few wooden frame structures, but they were quite effective as they moved around the stage all by themselves. Although with only 10 minutes left and the climax of the show there was a technical problem and the show was stopped for about 8 minutes. I knew there was something wrong when for the first time there was a lot of the company pushing one of the wooden sets off the stage .

    There is no hiding the fact that this is a good musical, but if you're expecting something as good as Les Mis and Miss Saigon you will be disappointed. I will not be rushing back to see it again but I'm sure I will sometime next year as it will probably still be running with packed houses.

    (Darren Dalglish)

    I always think that you should never see a musical without having heard the music first. There is, by the nature of the beast, such a lot to take in with musical theatre, and Martin Guerre is no exception.

    First impressions were not good, in fact I don't feel the show gathers momentum until the second act. My overall feeling was one of "an awful lot of the same" throughout and I will go on to say why. The set consists of 5 wooden skeletal towers which move around the stage sometimes alarmingly under their own steam!! Other than those there is no set to speak of. However, the design is very effective, particularly in a stunningly staged scene during which homes are burned and protestants murdered. But none the less it is a lot of the same!

    David Hersey's lighting is beautiful often giving the stage the look of a Brueghl painting (but will someone please explain why the word Bethlehem can make gobos rotate and why a projected stained glass window also rotates?).

    The main disappointment comes from the leads, Iain Glen as Arnaud (aka Martin Guerre) and Juliette Caton as Bertrande (aka Mrs Guerre). Neither have thrilling voices which is just what some of the really beautiful ballads need. Both sing with a marked warble and Ms Caton has a particularly thin voice. This played a large part in not feeling much for either of the main characters. It was noticeable that some of the smaller roles filled by the ensemble had much finer voices, and interesting to note from the programme that these are also the understudies for the main roles. Perhaps it would be good to see the show on a night when the plague has hit the village of Artigat and then be thrilled by voices which can match the lush orchestrations of Jonathan Tunick.

    But I carp!! The star of the show, and almost worth the ticket price alone is the thrilling choreography of Bob Avian. He has devised one particular routine for the whole village (who actually do look like an authentic mix of village types) in Act I which is a real show stopper. His style is not dissimilar to Tap Dogs (perhaps an unfair comparison but it has that same earthy pounding and Artigat actually in New South Wales we wonder?).

    As mentioned the show gets better as it moves on and the court scene with the ensemble number "The Imposter" is another show stopper. I liked the show and will go and see it again but need to hear the music first (cast recording not due until Nov 96) and there is some very fine music indeed, both the opening scene and ending contain very moving pieces of music. I just wish that with all the talent available in London they had cast leads who voices would compliment the music and thrill and move you more. With a sung through musical is it so essential to cast a renowned Shakespearean actor who had never sung in a musical before. The role is not particularly demanding dramatically but it is vocally and sadly Mr Glen doesn't deliver the goods as well as was expected.

    A standing ovation from the audience was also dampened by very quick curtain calls and no sign of the composers/director et al. A bit of a let down on such a momentous occasion.
    Go and see it and let me know your reactions.
    (PS This review was written by someone who actually enjoyed Leonardo! draw your own conclusions!)

    (Steven Taylor)

    The new blockbuster musical has arrived, Martin Guerre, the latest offering from the team that brought us Les Miserables, and Miss Saigon has opened at the Prince Edward Theatre, but unfortunately does not live up to expectations. A very strong cast together with an excellent and ingenious set, not to mention an exceptional lighting plot, somehow do not make up for the lack of content.

    The main problem is the characters do not develop enough, making it practically impossible to be moved or affected by the story. The bulk of the blame for this must go to Edward Hardy, for his bland and uninteresting lyrics. The music has it's moments, but even Jonathan Tunicks fabulous orchestrations cant mask the lack of melody in much of Schoenbergs music.

    The story is based on records of a judge during the turbulent religious wars in France during the 16th Century. A young couple are married, Martin is 16 and Bertrande 14 not because they love each other but so that their village can remain in Catholic hands. Martin finds the marriage impossible to consumate and goes off to war. He returns several years later, but is this the real Martin Guerre?

    Iain Glen makes an good impact as Arnaud, although there were times when the high notes sounded just out of his range, Juliette Caton is very sweet as Bertrande, and Jerome Pradon is very strong as Guillaume. The best performance was Michael Matus moving and effective portrayal of Benoit, the village idiot. Ann Emery, Sheila Reid, and the fabulous Julia Sutton gave some much needed comedy to proceedings as the village gossips.

    No doubt that due to the history of the production team, this show will be very successful, and enjoy a considerable run, but in my humble opinion, it does not deserve to!

    (Jason L Belne)

    Set in 16th century France this musical tells of Martin Guerre who deserts his wife and goes to war. Then 7 years later a man claiming to be Guerre returns.

    This is my first look at the changes made by Cameron Mackintosh, who is not giving up on the show at all. He is giving it all he can to make it succeed. He has not only made dramatic changes to the story and music but he has had a blitz on advertising on the TV, which is rare in the Uk, plus the launch of the CD to the show today(4th Nov). Tomorrow, the cast will be signing copies at the Virgin Meaga store, Oxford St. Plus the press are invited back on 11th November, and this will be crucial I think to the success of the show. So Martin Guerre is getting plenty of publicity and on Sunday 10th November a few numbers from the show should be on the Variety Performance show , which was recorded at the Dominion theatre while the show was closed for 3 days. I say should, because this will be a highlighted version and the producers just may cut this piece, however this is unlikely.

    I far enjoyed the musical more this time than last. I think the changes have done wonders for it. It is less complicated and more emotional. The first act is barely recognizable since the changes and includes some new songs, particularly the opening number " Working on the Land" which is excellent. Mackintosh has brought in a new lyricist Stephen Clark, and the difference really shows. Another significant change is the last 10 to 15 minutes, it is a far better ending now. Another thing I noticed in the first act, the wooden set is not used half as much as it used to be. In fact the sets are mostly non existent for most of this act.

    Iain Glen is just as good and so too is Juliette Caton who has received some critisism about her voice not being good enough.So bad was the criticism there were rumours that she was to be sacked, particularly when they used her understudy, Rebecca Lock, on the CD Cast recording. Which I think was very unfair to Juliette. It is my understanding that these two share performances on the show now. The producers say this is because the changes made on the show is more demanding for the role of Bertrande, so they thought it best to share the roles. However at the moment Caton does star in most performances.

    Without doubt this is a more polished and professional production since the changes. It is a show which really grows on you and the more you listen to the music the better it sounds. If you have seen Martin Guerre before, you must go back and see it again. You will be pleasantly surprised just how good this show has become.

    At the end of the day it will be bums on seats that decide the fate of this very expensive production. It was not full tonight , but maybe a lot of people are waiting for the critics view on it next week. It is rumoured that Mackintosh will assess the show in January next year.

    (Darren Dalglish)

    Having been present at the opening night of MG and not being too stunned by the show I was looking forward to returning to see the new revised version, especially as I'd read so much about it from the MG Newsgroup. I still firmly believe that any musical is better if you have taken the time to listen to a recording beforehand but this was not possible with MG, besides which the CD contains the new material and not the show that audiences saw from Jul-Oct 96. Even so, there is a lot of music in the show (2.5hours) which is not on the CD (73min!) and what was extra came as a nice suprise.

    I must say that the new version is FAR superior to the old. The story is much clearer and Betrande is given a far clearer role, in fact a lot of it is now played with her as a central character. I had not warmed to Juliet Caton in Jul and thought it proved the point when she wasn't chosen to record the CD...however my opinions have changed because she gave a terrific performance on Mon, moving and superbly sung and acted. Her voice has really grown and she was perhaps most powerful in the number when she converts to Protestantism (now much clearer why this happens).

    I can't really list all the changes that have been integrated into the show but will say that the way it has been done within the overall original structure of Act1 is very clever. By adding a short scene early on between Betrande and Benoit it makes both their characters more three dimensional.

    I still don't consider this as a great musical, I have seen many smaller musicals that are better, but it is now a very good musical indeed. They have reduced a lot of the moving set in Act1 and this sadly tends to often leave two characters on a vast empty stage for too long, though again some very clever re-direction has taken place eg: having one of the trees in one corner of the stage with Betrande and Arnaud singing a duet by it focused your attention more on them than what I remember being an empty stage before.

    There seemed to be more stomping than before, though I can't swear to that, and as before it is as thrilling a piece of choreography as you will see anywhere in London at the moment. David Hersey's lighting has to receive another mention....nothing short of stunning.

    So if you saw the early version I would advise you to go again, especially if, like me, you were not happy with it. If you haven't seen it don't think that this was a production that was so bad that it needed re-writing and so can't be much better is....infinitely better.

    A piece of is on sale at the 1/2 price booth in Leicester Sq (the official one, not the sharks by the Hippodrome) and the Grand Circle is closed (probably not at the weekend) so you could go to the theatre and buy the 16.50 seats and you'd get moved down to more expensive ones (though I suspect at the back of the stalls). Go and enjoy!

    (Steve Taylor)

    Before writing this review, I read through the other reviews. It seems that this production is a vast improvement over the one which opened in July '96, which I did not see. Most of the other reviewers seemed to enjoy it. But I have to say I was disappointed. I agree that the musical is well-intentioned and heart-felt with many strong points. Particularly the often soaring score, sets and costumes and the joyous, foot-stomping choreography. I also found a lot of it incredibly trite and flat. It may not be fair to compare this Martin Guerre with other incarnations, but I found the plot changes in this version unnecessary. One of the things that made the French movie "The Return of Martin Guerre" so compelling was it left the question of the stranger's i dentity hanging so long in Bertrande's mind. Was this really her husband? Does she care? Even in the American "Sommersby," updated to the Civil War presented the stranger's moral dilemma. Say he is the man he pretends to be, he is executed for murder. Admit that he is a fake, the people in his care lose their land. These are the kind of conflicts that make for great story-telling. Instead, the backdrop of this "Martin Guerre" is the Protestant-Catholic conflict in France. A compelling subject for sure, but handled fairly simplistically with saintly Protestants and evil, greedy Catholics who, of course, all learn their lesson by the final rousing chorus.

    The characters are also underdeveloped for the most part. Bertrande seems the only flesh and blood character, and Rebecca Lock's portrayal is lovely. Iain Glen is a charismatic presence as Arnaud du Thil, and he tries gamely, but the character is sorely underwritten. Arnaud, a confessed murderer and trickster, is too good to be true. All he lacks is a halo. Why does he choose to remain in Artigat? What motivates this man? We are told the answers to these questions rather than shown, and sometimes not told at all. Jerome Pradon sings well as the villainous Guillaume, but again, the character comes across as rather flat. Instead of the complex and tormented Javert of Boublil/Schonberg's Les Miz, we get Guillaume who seems straight out of a silent movie melodrama: if all Arnaud lacks is a halo, then all Guillaume lacks is a waxed moustache to twirl.

    Still, "Martin Guerre" does have the beginnings of a very good musical. With some more work on its book and characterisations, it could be a great one. Some people are being criticized for comparing "Martin Guerre" to "Les Miz" and "Miss Saigon." In some ways, the comparisons are unfair. This seems a small, intimate musical only slightly overproduced by Cameron Mackintosh. However, the comparison shows that we have come to expect more from Boublil and Schonberg. We, and they, deserve a tighter, fuller musical than "Martin Guerre."

    (Nancy A Phillips)

    Set in 16th century France this musical tells the story of Martin Guerre who deserts his wife and goes to war, then 7 years later a man claiming to be Guerre returns.

    I saw Martin Guerre when it first opened in July last year with that messy and complicated version, where most of the audience including myself were a little confused at times as to what was going on. I saw it again when it was reworked in November, in which the show was made more clear and some of the music was changed. This gave the show a cutting edge and I thoroughly enjoyed it far more than the original opening production, so much so I saw the show twice more with friends I had recommended it to.

    Now the show has had a cast change, it was time to see it again. I have waited several weeks before seeing the new cast as to give them time to settle in to their roles before I inevitably compare them with the original cast. Unfortunately the new cast are nowhere near as good as the original and to make matters worse, Cameron Mackintosh has made more changes to the show, and not for the better! The biggest tragedy is getting rid of one of my favourite songs "Sleeping On Our Own", a comedy piece by the three old women. This song is replaced by a new one called "The Solution" which is another comedy piece sang by the characters Pierre Guerre and Madame de Rols. Although this new song is more in tone with the story line, it's still not as entertaining as "Sleeping On Our Own", which I sadly missed!

    The new cast, although competent just do not have the same bite as the original. Hal Fowler who plays "Arnaud Du Thil" does not look the part and at times I felt over acted. Jenna Russell as "Bertande de Rols" sings quite well and sometimes sang far better than Juliette Caton did in the role, but she lacks the innocence and naively that Juliette had brought to the part, making it a less convincing performance. The biggest let down was Sebastien Torkia as "Benoit" the village idiot. He totally lacks the ability to make this character work in the same way as Michael Matus did. The fact is I could not find one performer that equalled, let alone bettered any of the original cast. I think this is because Cameron Mackintosh did not take as much care with choosing this cast as he did with the original, though, to be fair , the original cast did have more time to rehearse so maybe the latest performers will get better in time. Then again perhaps I'm not being objective enough, after all, when you have seen a show so many times with a particular cast it can be very difficult to see the show with a whole new cast and find it convincing! The audience certainly enjoyed the show , they gave a warm applause with some standing at the end.

    My verdict is that the latest changes to the show have not improved it. The show has been made too simple to follow, with the plot being spelt out to you in graphic detail. It has gone from one extreme to another. I preferred the last version exactly the way it was, I thought they had struck the right balance, but it has now been spoiled! With the new changes to the production and the less effective new cast the show has lost a lot of its sharpness and thus, I won't be running to see it a sixth time in the very near future.

    (Darren Dalglish)

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