MUSE

Fri 14th – Sat 29th August 2015

reviews

Chloe St George

at 12:19 on 22nd Aug 2015

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MUSE offers an insight into the life of Jean Ross, the real-life inspiration behind the fictional Sally Bowles, the eponymous character of Christopher Isherwood’s novel and, perhaps most notably, the star of the musical Cabaret.

Sophie Jugé, as Ross, certainly looks the part, right down to her trademark green painted nails. She stands poised and glamourous when performing her songs, in an eye-catching playsuit, and dons an authentic looking overcoat for more domestic scenes. Indeed, the aesthetic is perhaps the best thing about the production. The live, three-piece jazz band visibly on stage is a lovely addition which creates an authentic atmosphere as does the use of a gleaming spotlight, and the vintage baby’s pram is very charming.

However, the piece lacked a certain something – it didn’t feel like a story that begged to be told, or a character that demanded to be revived. Adding to this is the impression that, putting her glorious voice aside, Sophie Jugé doesn’t feel like a leading lady, which cannot go unnoticed in such an intimate space as the Studio at the Space Triplex, nor in what is essentially a one-woman show. And whilst it may have been intended to present Ross as a strong, not overly emotional character, her lack of emotion expressed at a highly personal, traumatic issue comes across as unnatural and rather wooden.

Interestingly, Isherwood’s image of Ross is of a rather poor singer, who is redeeed by a captivating charm. Jugé’s voice, meanwhile, is delightful and clearly trained, yet her acting performance lacks the range and energy to drive the piece.

I enjoyed the feminist tone of the production – MUSE is at pains to show that Ross is not just a pretty face but a woman who knows what she is doing, RADA trained and a professional journalist. Where the script approaches these feminist themes, in the stunning final lines and in the discussion of the status of a muse as the “conduit between thought and action”, it makes for the most interesting moments of the play.

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Luke Howarth

at 21:36 on 22nd Aug 2015

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Descending into a hypnotically warm SpaceTriplex, I expected MUSE to do one of two things: either to persuade us that the story of Jean Ross (most famously, star of the film ‘Cabaret’) is worth telling, or to delight its audience with a nostalgic set of classic numbers from the genre. Spotting a double bass as I sat down, I crossed my fingers for the latter. As it happened, neither was successfully achieved.

Sophie Jugé, on whose shoulders the entire show rests, flits between a wistful, pram-rocking mother and her younger self, who struts flirtatiously into each new number and – seemingly – the next doomed love affair. Unfortunately, the contrast is almost imperceptible; Jugé’s performance does not succeed in convincing us of an authentic character.

Surprisingly, there seemed to be some difficulty in the handling of the script, due either to nerves or unfamiliarity, and as a consequence the (rather dull) narrative is reported in a passionless monotone. The recurring trope of sexual innuendo quickly becomes tired, and Ross’s treadmill of liaisons with heartless men is more likely to introduce boredom, or frustration, than pathos.

The musical numbers provide enjoyable relief but are largely unremarkable. Jugé’s tone is enchanting, but her pitching is occasionally approximate, and some transitions from chest to head voice are negotiated with difficulty. Perhaps the highlight was a moving performance of Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered’, which recurs in the final moments of the musical with a newly melancholic retrospection. But even this, which ought to have been the emotional epoch of the piece, did not achieve its cathartic potential.

MUSE is charming but ultimately uninspiring; those who are passionate about cabaret are unlikely to learn anything new about Ross’s life; those who enjoy the genre will not be blown away; and those are ignorant are unlikely to cultivate an interest in the fifty minutes of MUSE’s production.

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