Following a run of Jeanine Tesori’s musical Caroline or Change, London is now playing host to the UK premiere of an earlier work written with Brian Crawley, Violet, set on a greyhound bus, some of its stops, and in the memory of its main character.

Matthew Harvey and Kaisa Hammarlund. Photo by Scott Rylander.
Matthew Harvey and Kaisa Hammarlund. Photo by Scott Rylander.

The Charing Cross theatre auditorium has been reconfigured in the round, with a stage revolve and ceiling decoration. In this space Violet (and her younger self) join two soldiers and a rag-bag collection of travellers, across the southern states of the USA.

Violet was disfigured as a child and her faith has driven her to seek out healing from a preacher famous on television. She sees herself as ugly and people she meets comment on her scar, but the audience don’t see it (they see her from within rather than through the pitying eyes of others?).

Matthew Harvey and Kaisa Hammarlund. Photo by Scott Rylander.
Janet Mooney and Kaisa Hammarlund. Photo by Scott Rylander.

Tesori’s score may take a few repeated listens to be fully appreciated, but the ensemble pieces on the bus made me think of the airplane camaderie of Come From Away, with different concerns and overlapping stories.

Kaisa Hammarlund impresses as Violet, who trusts no-one and lives on sarcasm, cunning and nervous energy. In her quest for perfection she engages both soldiers, Monty (Matthew Harvey) and Flick (Jay Marsh) in romance, and makes peace both with herself and the Lord by the end of her travels.

Cast of Violet. Photo by Scott Rylander.
Cast of Violet. Photo by Scott Rylander.

Parallel scenes of card playing and musical memories with Young Violet (Madeleine Sellman at the performance I saw) and Keirom Crook as her father, struggling to raise a child who has the eyes and the smile of her dead mother, are effective.

I also enjoyed Janet Mooney’s dual roles as the fussy old lady on the bus and the hooker in the hotel where Violet is not welcome ‘cos she’s white’.

This musical is passionate, topical and heartwarming, and despite some odd staging decisions from director Shuntaro Fujita, it thrives in this intimate theatre and moves swiftly in an economical 95 minute running time.

Kenneth Avery Clark and cast. Photo by Scott Rylander.
Kenneth Avery Clark and cast. Photo by Scott Rylander.

Violet continues at the Charing Cross Theatre until 6 April.

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