"Monochrome brought to colourful life"
by Andy MOSELEY for remotegoat on 25/07/12

Susan Lyons is dead, Detective Hank Bradshaw is investigating, and trashy journalist, Karen Carter is trying to help him. It's 1930's Chicago. The city is suffering under the Great Depression, but in the local speakeasies it's still the roaring twenties, and, in much the same way as they do now, the wealthiest families deny all responsibility for the economic woes of the country and fiddle while Rome burns. That's the setting for A Life in Monochrome, a homage to film noir with large doses of contemporary relevance thrown in.

Blind Tiger have transformed The Space Theatre into a sweaty 1930's jazz club (with sweltering temperatures unwittingly helping to achieve this), complete with gumshoe detective office, and action taking place around the entire space, not just on stage. The cast double up as singers and musicians, so while they are not acting, you're likely to find them behind the bar playing the incidental music that completes an ambitious performance that delivers on the promise of bringing story and music together and engulfing the audience.

The plusses are many, Callum Hughes and David Shopland's script shows they understand the key ingredients of noir, and the direction and design translate them from film to stage with ease. The cast bring their characters to life without drifting into parody. Claire Sharpe as the doomed singer and object of everyone's affections is a highlight, combining the untouchable heroine with the girl who knows that in spite, or because, of her glamour she would be a disappointment to anyone seeing her in the morning without make-up. The incidental music is also a great touch, helping to create the atmosphere of the piece.

The weaknesses are that for a long time the murder of Susan isn't the focus of the play. Too much time is spent on the perilous state of the Earnshaw family business. We lose focus on the real story while this is happening, and there is less time to show the power Susan had and to develop a convincing set of suspects and sense of intrigue. The parallels between 1930's America and the present day are delivered in too heavy handed a manner, and take us out of the 30's atmosphere where the show is at its most successful. The final scene between Bradshaw and Carter is also far too long, particularly given how little it adds to the narrative. The absence of any background music here added to the feeling that it was an unfitting end.

I would like to see the writers immerse themselves fully in the 1930s and let the contemporary relevance emerge naturally without trying to force it. If they do that, then with the rest of the ingredients they have, and the vast talent in the company, this could be something truly worthy of a large audience. It's ambitious and inventive entertainment that's worth seeing, but a tighter script could make it unmissable.

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