“Now is not the time for half naked men”
When a show describes itself as “Pinocchio meets The Picture of Dorian Gray – with jazz hands!”, it is giving you fair warning of how odd it is going to be, and so it is with this brand new musical Devilish. Receiving its world premiere at the Landor, Devilish is a curious mixture of a show that never quite settles in what it wants to be – a straight up musical comedy, a satire on reality TV culture, a poignant love story, it pulls in elements of all of these yet pulls punches in the delivery.
Our leading man isn’t the first buff guy to be found half-naked on the streets of Clapham with a pair of angel wings but he might be the first to actually have fallen from Heaven. First taken in by the lovely Ruth (into whose greenhouse he crash-landed) and named Angel by her daffy best friend Maddie, the kerfuffle his arrival causes is capitalised on by Nick, the rapacious reality TV producer for whom the girls work, who splashes Angel’s shirtless splendour all over our screens.
Angel’s fast-track into the higher echelons of Z-list celebrity is only half the story of Chris Burgess’ book though. Ruth is still nursing a broken heart after the death of her boyfriend 3 years ago, a man who looked a lot like Angel who thus decides he’d now quite like to be human…do you see where it’s going yet?! The problem is though, that between the satire and romance, Devilish’s tone is all over the place and the characters – and the writing – just isn’t strong enough to convince of either, never mind both.
Marc Urquhart’s direction equally doesn’t quite land well enough. David Shields’ design is strongly influenced by pop-art cartoons but is rarely exploited thus – when a character goes from London to Cornwall and back again in the blink of eye, there’s cartoonish fun to be had there but it’s played straight. And as energetic as Adam Scown’s choreography is, it doesn’t always feel appropriate to the rather old-fashioned style of Cooper’s compositions.
Alex Green gets the childish naïveté of Angel right but could usefully show us more of the transition into emotional maturity, conversely Victoria Hope’s Ruth could do with a wider a range, though she does possess a lovely-sounding singing voice. Laughs come from the broadly sketched supporting characters – Katie Ann Dolling does well to elevate her would-be weathergirl from caricature and I enjoyed Louie Westwood’s vivid cameos as a TV host and frustrated Brummie magician.
As entertainment, Devilish is undoubtedly enthusiastic and energetic but as a piece of musical theatre, it feels like it still needs more development. Its currently conflicting form leaves it caught between the devil and the deep blue c of Clapham.