On Thursday last week, London Cries, a new production by Di Trevis (who was the first woman to run a company at the Royal National Theatre) and Frank McGuinness, had its world premiere at the Irondale Theater in Fort Greene, the second show at the ensemble’s new space in the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. (The first was a short run of Peter Pan.) The production was commissioned for the Old Vic in London, where Kevin Spacey is currently serving as Artistic Director, and it moves there next year.
London Cries takes place in a 19th-century pub where the patrons are constantly breaking out into classic British Music Hall tunes. If that sounds strange, imagine a more contemporary setting: twenty-somethings at a karaoke bar, getting drunk while discussing work and love and loss, the dialogue occasionally interrupted by a Pop standard―”Lovefool” by The Cardigans, perhaps, or “Missin’ You” by the Rolling Stones. The characters’ song choices could be revealing, and the lyrics could subtly advance the narrative. Artfully done, it would be quite good. London Cries is not artfully done.
The major characters introduce themselves with monologues hobbled together out of Victorian tropes, and the plot is as thin as can be without fully embracing a “variety show” format. The songs provide the only respite, though by the second Act even they start wearing thin.
We mentioned characters above, but “characters” is overly generous: Nolan Kennedy plays Bill, a red-headed Irish boxer who likes “falling down drunk” and moonlights as a gigolo (on older clients: “they’re so … grateful”); Welland Hardwick plays Archie, a one-eyed Scotsman in a kilt; Ilana Niernberger plays Sadie, a saintly Jewish peasant who wandered over from Tevye’s shtetl (there’s a hora). None of these are characters: they’re types, and types have no reality to escape from and no life to reflect upon. When they do perform their numbers ― often quite well ― the performances are apropos of nothing.
There are bright spots: Jenny Galloway brings a vulgar majesty to her role as Jenny, performing with a haughty indifference to the chaotic production around her ― Lady Ubu as a London madame. Her rendition of “Don’t Have Any More Mrs. Moore” was our favorite, though we imagine that the show stopper (especially after the production moves overseas and picks up its “all-star British cast”) will be Freddie Bishop’s “The Night I Appeared As Macbeth.”
Freddie is played here by Richard Poe. His singing is fine, but we prefer his recitation. Poe spends much of the play carrying around a soapbox and selling poems for a penny, and his snippets from William Blake’s “London” merit considerably more:
But most thro’ midnight streets I hear How the youthful Harlot’s curse Blasts the new-born Infants tear And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse
As he recites, Mariah, a youthful Harlot (Scarlet Maressa Rivera), and Lily, an even more youthful Harlot-to-be (Sasha Higgins) wander the stage indifferently, along with the rest of the cast. “Pearls before swine” hisses Freddie, and he has got a point.
If you really want to achieve the experience London Cries is trying for, an evening at home with Songs of Experience would be better spent. Throw in Arthur by The Kinks ― the transition from Blake’s London to the suburban paradise of “Shangri-La” would produce exactly the sort of synthesis that London Cries fails to deliver.
– Hanny Hindi