Quite apart from garnering some pretty damning reviews, Trevor Nunn’s production of Gone With the Wind, at the New London Theatre, has also provided a springboard for several showbiz writers to bounce off memories of some of the most disastrous musicals in the West End has ever seen.
This ignominious roll call of unmitigated ineptitude includes the likes of Bernadette, Kings and Clowns, Blondel, Twang, Carrie, Leonardo and The Hunting of the Snark.
So, is Gone With the Wind bad enough to add to that list? The answer is emphatically no. It’s far too boring and bland for that. The Bernadettes and Twangs of the world were so irredeemably terrible that they were actually a lot of fun and I wouldn’t have missed them for the world. Not so Gone With the Wind which, at its best, is borderline competent.
What really does the show in, and no mistake about it, is its length. I know the screen version is even longer, but that had Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, stunning Technicolor photography, spectacularly cinematic set-pieces and a score by the great Max Steiner that, frankly, my dear, is a lot better than Margaret Martin’s.
And given this wan stage incarnation’s inordinate length, was it really necessary for adapter/director Trevor Nunn to add to the running time by having actors on stage narrate what is plainly visible for all to see? For example, when Scarlett O’Hara joins her family for dinner at Tara, do we need to be told so when we can see it for ourselves? In the film version Scarlett has only one child, yet in the book she has three, as, indeed, she does in the stage show, even though the first two are barely glimpsed and hardly referred to.
At the same time, memorable scenes such as Scarlett’s shooting of the Yankee deserter (which here gets an unwanted laugh) and the famous moment in which Scarlett vows she’ll never be hungry again, go for nought.
As for that wonderfully dramatic sequence in which Rhett Butler forces a humiliated Scarlett to attend Melanie’s party after she has been caught in a compromising situation with Ashley, it’s gone completely. Go figure. If length is the show’s main liability, the situation isn’t helped by John Napier’s really unattractive all-purpose set in which Tara, the glittering symbol of ante-bellum grandeur, looks little more than a wooden hovel in some Southern shanty town. As for the burning of Atlanta, a few loud bangs, flashes of orange lighting, a bit of smoke and a collapsing façade or two is all you get.
Though I found Jill Paice’s Scarlett a tad shrill and common, she looked the part, as did Darius Danesh as Rhett. Trouble is, there’s not an iota of chemistry between them. Or a decent song. If Olivia de Havilland in the film was too good to be true as Melanie, Madeleine Worrall made this most colourless of roles even more so; while Edward Baker-Duly, as Ashley Wilkes, though better looking than the movie’s Leslie Howard, made little impression because his dialogue never allowed him to. Natasha Yvette Williams and Jina Burrows as Mammy and Prissy, two of author Margaret Mitchell’s more memorable characters, made the most of the few opportunities they were given to shine.
There have been worse musicals than Gone With the Wind but none quite as pointless.
CLIVE HIRSCHHORN. Courtesy of This Is London.