Almost a decade ago, the last London production of Imagine This opened in the West End, and was immediately slated by critics. In fact, it was so widely criticised that it closed within a month, and was the second flop in a row for The New London Theatre. So, can this new production, directed by Harry Blumenau, fare any better?
Well it’s still a musical about the holocaust, set in the horrific Warsaw Ghetto, there’s no getting away from that fact. But, this production does seem to have learned a few lessons from its predecessor’s failure, and it does feel like the whole thing has been handled with a degree of sensitivity.
The plot gets a little tricky to follow, a troupe of Jewish actors, well established within the ghetto, hide a resistance fighter amongst them as they stage a production about The Masada. As we watch the musical within a musical, it becomes pretty easy to draw parallels between the two settings.
At the interval (of the Masada play) a Nazi Officer offers the group a chance of freedom, if only they will keep their fellow Jews happy long enough to get them aboard a train to certain death at Treblinka. There are a number of sub-plots within each of the two musicals; a love story, a missing mother, a faithful servant sentenced to death, just to name a few. When it switches from plot to plot, it sometimes takes just a second or two for you to grasp which one you’re watching and who the character is.
The original Imagine This production failed to get the look right; with sets, costumes and props that would have been beyond the reach of the impoverished group of actors. In the smaller Union Theatre, it feels more authentic, the ‘patchwork’ costumes and toy weapons having far more impact. Good use of lighting by Ben Jacobs also accentuates the feel.
The ensemble numbers are striking and powerful, but the solo numbers are all too often lost, with it being very difficult to hear what was being sung. The dynamic choreography from Kevan Allen is striking and deeply emotive, the final scene (again, of the Madasa play) is beautifully done.
In a relatively large cast for a small stage, there were a few stand out performances, Nick Wyschna as Daniel, and Lauren James Ray as Rebecca definitely captured the emotion of the piece. Robert Wilkes brought a lighter side with the character Pompey, in stark contrast to Jonny Muir’s impressively intimidating Captain Blick, while Shaun McCourt excelled in both his roles of Adam and General Silva.
With the running time shortened and some of the more tasteless jokes and element removed, this production of Imagine This has shaken off the bad reputation of the 2008 production, instead giving it a more intimate and authentic feel. With a rousing score and emotional plot, you cannot fail to be moved by the story, and the passion with which it is performed.