SOME GIRLS ARE BIGGER THAN OTHERS
Lyric Hammersmith, London W6
Opened 5 July, 2005
****

Anonymous Society do not tread the easy path of compilation musicals. Their Jacques Brel show in 1999 eschewed narrative in favour of a kind of sung-through impressionism that was at once sexy and darkly disquieting. Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others takes a similar tack, but instead of eroticism its keynote is a kind of sustained sexual/romantic despair, entirely in keeping with the reputation of the songs' lyricist. For these are 80 uninterrupted minutes (plus encore) of the work of Morrissey & Marr. The Smiths musical has arrived.

Again, there is no story, other than the old tale that man hands on misery to man. We see power-play, abuse and violence between couples, in families and peer groups, across the generations: a desperation to be loved and a frustration that it can never be made to work. Mostly, it is women who suffer (the acting/singing company comprises two men and four women): during "Unloveable", an older man puts his head up a little girl's skirt, and the domestic-violence percussive tattoo in "Barbarism Begins At Home" is provided by a menacing flamenco duet.

Perrin Manzer Allen and Andrew Wale have achieved something that might shock Morrissey. Despite the Union Jack vest sported by singer Sean Kingsley and his deliberately obtrusive Chris Farlowe-style British blues growl, the string quartet arrangements and the emphasis on atmospheric rather than linear stage images have Europeanised their oh-so-English source material. The minor-key string laments can grow samey, though, and there's a little too much of the "testifying" howl for my taste at vocal climaxes the latter stages of "I Know It's Over" almost sound like multi-tracked primal-scream Lennon.

But overall there is both musical variety and tonal complexity: the overblown romanticism of "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" is punctured when Sigalit Feig begins to portray the lyrics in sign language, and Kingsley's duet with a dragged-up Garrie Harvey on "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle" is played in front of idyllic slow-motion video footage of a young boy. (The video projections run continually, conveying a tristesse as if The Smiths' own Derek Jarman-directed promo videos had been shot instead by Terence Davies). Verdicts on the piece as a whole will very much depend upon one's personal tastes and loyalties, but Anonymous Society's audacity and commitment alone are admirable.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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