FRENCH writer Guy de Maupassant, who died in 1893 at the age of 43, wrote more than 300 short stories, and is widely regarded as the master of the genre.
Performing Arts students at Arts University Bournemouth have taken over Pavilion Dance for the world premiere of a new musical, which adapts a handful of Maupassant’s stories, with a lyrics and book by Crispin Harris and music by Paul Knight, who also accompanies the show. It’s an ambitious undertaking, and one in which AUB students from many different departments have a chance to demonstrate their imaginations and their skills.
Set in a steampunk museum in Paris, the story unfolds as six young men confront their futures, or maybe their pasts. Led by female automata, they are forced to relive moments in their lives when they had a chance to change the future. Masque Macabre disrupts and tortures memory in its swirling action. Many of Maupassant’s stories told of the darker side of human nature from a pessimistic viewpoint, and that is reflected in this brave new musical.
There are moments of stunning brilliance in this production, directed by Katharine Piercey. Some of the 15 young actors and singers simply take your breath away. The unrelenting swirl of this dark world, in which almost no-one is quite what they seem, ends with an audacious coup de theatre.
Ollie Hiemann (M Bonnin etc), leaps from his native Edinburgh accent to perfectly clipped RP and rough Scots. Amelia Shipton’s powerful Mme Tellier, Hannah Burn’s loveable Mme Bonnin, Rae Alexander’s Gabrielle, Aliza Granzelius’ awakening Madeline, Eleise Bailey’s brave and witty Rosa, Samuel Kopppel’s unfaithful Philippe, Ty Sawyer’s anguished Antoine, Freddy Bridgman’s hypocritical Paul, Elliot Cox’s transvestite Prussian, Brandon Duquemin’s unfortunate Gerard … all the rest. Each of these young actors painted a vivid character in this very demanding sung-through musical. Each had to learn not only to sing but to dance, under the guidance of Claire Camble Hutchins.
It seems almost churlish to mention it, but there are some problems.
For a start the show is much too long and editing would not be difficult. Set designer Synne Pettersen Roisgard and the team produced a feast for the eyes, but perhaps the difficulties of movement slowed the proceedings down.
Some of the songs are absolutely, showstoppingly, brilliant. Some are both repetitive and outside the capabilities of the performers, talented though they are.
The story is set firmly in France, so why was the pronounciation so careless? Before my time, even, there was a comic called “Monsewer” Eddie Gray, famous as a member of the Crazy Gang. The pronounciation of his name was a joke. If this was a repeat, it didn’t work. Basic French sounds should not have flustered the actors.
This group provided the backstage crew for AUB’s Strictly Twelfth Night at the Royal Bath earlier in the year, and those actors were the crew for Masque Macabre. It’s an important discipline and an exciting opportunity for the trainees, and underlines the university’s great range of courses providing a thorough grounding for future careers.
With some judicious editing, this is a show that certainly “has legs”, and I hope to see it again.
Photographs by Steve Porter