Richard Carpenter is Close to You

Wed 2nd – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Laura Wilsmore

at 11:12 on 17th Aug 2017

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Before I begin, I will whole-heartedly admit that I did not know much about Richard Carpenter before entering Matthew Floyd Jones’ show. This initially did worry me, but from the moment he entered the stage, he proved to be an incredibly talented, compelling showman. The performer and writer glided with ease between demonstrating smooth vocals and playing the saxophone, accordion and piano. Witty parodies of The Carpenters’ songs (and new ‘solo material’) ignited joy in the audience. However, the storyline that weaved together these songs and interludes was at times clunky and predictable. Jones does make self-aware jokes to acknowledge the fact that many audience members would have been secretly expecting a full-on tribute act. The show does not intend to create Yesterday Once More, but what it does provide is engaging for all audience members, from die-hard fans to newbies like myself.

Despite Jones’ obvious virtuosic qualities, one of the most impressive feats that he accomplished was his ability to commit to the character throughout. Alone on stage, most of his dialogue was between various voice-overs, from his manager to fans of Karen Carpenter. Slight eye-slides to the audience and subtle facial expressions kept us constantly involved in the joke. Occasionally, I did feel that the show relied too heavily on the pre-recorded voices. The length of certain scenes crept over the threshold of tolerance, leaving the audience feeling as if it was Rainy Days and Mondays.

Jones’ impeccable wit helped salvage many of these awkward interactions. His repeated reference that he can only sing ‘6 words at a time for legal reasons’ grew exceedingly funnier as the show powered on. With comical references to current world affairs, no one left without chuckling. At the highest point of tension for Richard Carpenter, just as his frustration bursts out, he hilariously noted the two empty seats in the front row in his supposedly ‘sold out’ show. Amongst the humour, Jones also proceeded to encourage one of the sweetest audience sing-along’s that I have ever experienced. However, I can imagine that this could be harder to pull-off with less-enthusiastic audiences as Jones himself noted. A few super fans in the front row really did help create such a wonderful atmosphere and it would be hard to imagine the show without their input.

In the show, Richard Carpenter argues that if he could change anything in the world, he would proceed to remove the skill of ‘charisma’ and ‘presence’ in performers. Ironically, these qualities were exactly what the show thrived upon. Whilst it was not a ground-breaking revival, you did enjoy witnessing a man who truly cared about his subject being so Close to You. As a paper lantern Venus Williams said (it makes sense in the show, I promise), we cannot all be ‘GOATS’ (Greatest of all Time’s). Instead, we need to own our ‘shit’, embrace our talents and own them with pride and Matthew Floyd Jones does just that.

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Mark Bogod

at 11:38 on 17th Aug 2017

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Yesterday once more (for all we know) Matthew Floyd Jones performed his cabaret-comedy show in which he appears as the lesser-known half of the Carpenters. Don’t be fooled though, this is no tribute act. Instead, Jones adopts an imagined persona of a Richard Carpenter as a nervous, frustrated man; still struggling, 35 years on, to be recognised on his own merits, without reference to his sister.

To frame the show, Jones has Richard playing a concert in the ‘Purgatorium’, a zone of limbo inhabited by the overshadowed siblings of this world (Venus Williams, David Miliband, you get the idea). A recorded voice-over is used to convey a number of other voices, such as Ricahrd’s internal monologue, or a journalist interviewing him, and introduce the audience to the character.

Much light is made of the fact that for legal reasons, Jones cannot play any of the original songs (beyond six words). So instead he sings ingeniously-crafted pastiches, with the lyrics to recognisable tunes changed (for instance ‘why do birds suddenly appear’ becomes about fish instead). The new words are at times highly inventive, particularly towards the end of the show when Richard undergoes a transformation of character. Similarly, Jones made slight changes to the melodies of familiar tunes so that they were both recognisable and something new. He is without doubt a highly skilled musician, exhibiting not only great singing ability, but skill at playing a large variety of instruments.

The show, however, is about more than the music. Jones succeeds in building an emotionally complex character. His unhappiness and frustration is portrayed wonderfully in the spoken sections between the songs. At times, it does seem that he relies too much on the recorded voices, but often they proved a useful, if convenient way to convey Richard’s internal struggle. It was clear throughout that Jones cares immensely about this project, having even created ‘Richard Carpenter’s Solo Album’ in real life. This enthusiasm was infectious and got the audience joining in happily.

Nevertheless, this was very far from a perfect hour of theatre. There is only so much comedy you can squeeze out of being the less famous sibling and copyright infringement – these two seemed to be the only jokes. Some of the lyrics too fell flat when they were clearly an attempt to raise a laugh. Overall, ‘Richard Carpenter is Close to You’ is a show presented with commendable skill and enthusiasm. It might easily beat rainy days and Mondays, but it won’t leave you on top the world either.

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