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Violet (Susan Elkin reviews)

Violet – ★★★
Music by Jeanine Tesori. Book & Lyrics by Brian Crawley. Based on the short story The Ugliest Pilgrim by Doris Betts. Produced by Charing Cross Theatre Productions Limited, co-produced with Umeda Arts
performance date: 14 Jan 2019
venue: Charing Cross Theatre, London.
Photo: Scott Rylander


Violet is a strange quest story. It’s 1964. The titular young women has, or is supposed to have, an axe scar on her face from a childhood accident – invisible to the audience which is distinctly odd. She travels from North Carolina to Tulsa in Oklahoma on a Greyhound bus in search of miracle healing from a slimy TV charlatan preacher (Kenneth Avery-Clark – good). Of course she’s disappointed but in another way she succeeds. Think The Wizard of Oz spliced with a William Styron novel.

Kaisa Hammarblund is strong as Violet – angry, feisty, vulnerable, anxious and with a face which lights the room when she smiles. She also has an interestingly wide and colourful vocal range which makes her singing unusually impassioned. There’s some attractive duet work too especially when Hammarblund sings with Jay Marsh who is warm and appealing as Flick.

Most of the action is driven by the slick ensemble – eleven in the cast – who play a wide range of other parts between them including the saccharine choir supporting the healer, bus passengers, hotel guests at the overnight stops and so on.

In general, Jeanine Tesori’s music is competent but unmemorable although there’s some nice country and western style fiddling (Corey Wickens tucked away upstairs with the rest of Don Jackson’s nine-piece band) and some enchanting violin/cello continuo during Violet’s Lay Down Your Head number.

There were things which puzzled me about this show. Why go to all the bother and expense of configuring the Charing Cross Theatre with seating banks at both ends of a central playing space and putting in a revolve to make so little use of it? The use of a child to play young violet (Amy Mepham doing a fair job on press night) is initially quite confusing and she isn’t visibly scarred either.

I left the theatre thinking about curate’s eggs.

Matthew Harvey (Monty) Kaisa Hammarlund (Violet). Photo: Scott Rylander

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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