views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Beautiful Damned
Leicester Square Theatre
3rd February 2015


Guy Hughes as Fitz

Photography © Ben Weaver-Hincks

Oh, how the other half did live. In Beautiful Damned, an adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's 1922 novel (unsurprisingly The Beautiful and Damned), we meet a pair of society's top movers and shakers, spending some downtime together in a quiet speakeasy. They might be the outwardly beautiful people, but are by no means content with their lot. First world problems? Yup, they've got them.

Gloria (Nadia Cavelle) and Anthony (James Hyde) are very married and very bored. A bartender, would-be novelist and Mary Sue, Fitz (Guy Hughes), takes an interest in them, what with Anthony being a writer, and this prompts the couple to recount the past ten years of their life to him. Theirs is a tale of decadence, boredom and utter shallowness. Gloria is thoroughly self-obsessed, but she's at least aware of the fact, and she's hedonistic, not cruel. Anthony is bitter and jaded, with a similar sense of self-entitlement, but he does care for his wife even if he doesn't particularly seem to like her all the time. It's an odd relationship.

There are some really strong aspects to this production, but the inherent difficulty with Beautiful Damned is that the storyline revolves around not just the very rich, but the very rich from a long faded era. It's hard for the audience to relate to Gloria and Anthony - the acting is superb and spans a wide range of emotions, but we just don't warm to the main characters. They're not that nice, but at the same time, they're not hateful enough to elicit a strong reaction out of us the other way. There are deep-rooted problems in their marriage but it's not exactly a toxic relationship - you get the impression they would be the way they are even with another partner. We don't love them, we don't hate them. We just don't care that much and, actually, indifference can be worse.

Nadia Cavelle and James Hyde as Gloria and Anthony

Photography © Ben Weaver-Hincks

Hughes doesn't really add much to the plot, such as it is, he's more on stage for background effect and to play the piano, which he does very well. As he tinkles away on those ivories, he helps keep the action firmly in the Jazz Age, with his own original live music giving the production an almost noir movie feel to it. We may not engage with the protagonists, but the staging does draw us into the period. There's a lot of care in the set design and it seems crafted especially for the venue, yet with it being a touring production, you're vaguely aware that's probably not true.

Director Ben Weaver-Hincks, who is also responsible for adapting the piece, certainly makes the room feel authentic. The strong black and white lines, the vibrant red accents - it looks the real deal. And with the cabaret style seating too, you do feel as if you're almost part of the action. With the characters so unrelatable, I think what would compensate for this is if Weaver-Hincks went even further and made this into a properly immersive experience. The performers definitely seem up to the challenge.

Over the course of the 75 minutes, we move back and forth in time, signalled quite clearly by Catrin Powell's simple but effective lighting. Cavil and Hyde navigate a whole host of characters - Dick, Muriel, Maury, Bloeckman - and it never once gets confusing, much to Weaver-Hincks' credit. The actors use a few props, a pair of glasses, sliding on and off a jacket, but they don't really need the help, the distinction is clear from their delivery.

This is an undeniably stylish show, executed well by its three performers. You may not give a damn about the characters - which is just as much Scotty's fault as it is in the adaptation - but you'll enjoy this strangely beautifully poisonous and intimate insight into their world.

Beautiful Damned opened on 2nd February and runs until 5th February at the Leicester Square Theatre. The show will then transfer to Burgh House from 14th to 16th February 2015.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Northern, Piccadilly)

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