Shaftesbury Theatre, London WC2
Opened 17 October, 2000

It's big, bold and visually ravishing, but in terms of content this musical is one for the so-bad-it's-good brigade!

Rick Fisher's lighting design, based on the tricouleur, is beautiful; Michael Yeargan's set includes a vast platform which tilts up to represent the Austrian Alps and leaves a kind of dungeon beneath into which Bonaparte throws his brother Lucien. Screens and back projections do almost all the work of location, and indeed apart from the big set-piece scenes, opera director Francesca Zambello stages many of the numbers as two-dimensional arias.

The story that Napoleon's success was inspired by his love for Joséphine, and his downfall lay in over-compensation for his abandonment of her labours its parallels, so that the climax interweaves Waterloo with a eulogy to the recently deceased Joséphine. But Timothy Williams' music ends far too many lines on diffident upward cadences, and Andrew Sabiston's lyrics are often just plain ludicrous rhyming "brilliantly planned" with "Talleyrand", for instance. It's not quite high camp, but it has many more laughs than intended.

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Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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