Diamonds are supposed to be a girl’s best friend – but in this sparkling musical retelling of the beginning of the end for Marie Antoinette they are anything but.
The true story of how the iconic French queen got caught up in a jewellery fraud, further damaging her already fragile reputation and presaging her bloody end, is the basis for this fast and funny one-act show. But the core is really the relationship between regal Marie and plotting peasant Jeanne.
Renée Lamb as Jeanne nearly steals the show from its title star, with great vocals and a bombastic presence, but Zizi Strallen as Marie gets the best lines and brings such joy to the stage that the audience can’t help slightly falling for her. The twist is that, even as Jeanne strives to get her revenge on the aristocracy, neither can she.
Travis Ross drips with humour as Cardinal de Rohan, and his performances especially make good use of the minimal set, which features little more than a manually revolving platform, some drum seats, and prop microphones. Together with some clever lighting, it nonetheless captivates; we don’t necessarily feel we’re in Paris, but we’re a million miles from Norwich.
The music mixes multiple styles, with rap, R ‘n’ B, and straight-up ballads thrown into the mix. For my money the weakest links are, surprisingly, the opening and closing numbers with the first lacking the sucker punch you’d expect – preferring to lay low for the, admittedly delicious, twist of the second song, and the finale being a slightly by-numbers uplifting ‘live your life’ paean. Given the bloody murder to come – and not just for the rich set – it lacks the intelligence of the rest of the book, which is witty, catchy, thoroughly enjoyable, and beautifully performed.
While referencing 18th century France, the script, songs, and even costumes, deliberately resonate with a modern Britain facing its own challenges with the cost of living, and with an ruling elite increasingly seen as out of touch with the everyman. As Jeanne asks: Sound familiar?
The show is being touted for the cast and crew’s links to musical theatre hits like In The Heights and SIX, but it stands squarely on its own feet as a confident and smart show. Touring as a ‘development production’ it is already extremely well-honed and offers a unique chance to see some top notch West End talent in the Playhouse’s intimate setting.
- Cake: The Marie Antoinette Playlist continues at Norwich Playhouse until Saturday, April 29, 2003.