WORTH A LOOK?: ***
RUNTIME: 90 minutes (no interval)
WHEN?: Thursday 29 July, booking to 21 August 2021
We’re here because director Emma Rice has given us so many memorable theatrical moments and deep-voiced star Le Gateau Chocolat is a performer we’ve loved in cabaret but never on a West End stage like this one.
- Read on for reasons including why the Old Vic is the most Covid-cautious of all the theatre venues we’ve visited recently
Bagdad Cafe is an English language West German film directed by Percy Adlon which tells the story of a German woman who rows with her husband in the Mojave desert and makes her way to a motel where she is initially regarded with suspicion by those who run it and those who live there.
It is 1 of the favourite films of director Rice and she chose it as her 1st post-lockdown project because she felt its themes of community, diversity and ultimately acceptance would resonate at this time when so many are looking to the return of theatre to shine a light on what we have gone through and what it might mean for the future.
Sandra Marvin (pictured above) plays Brenda who runs the motel and it is the growing friendship between her and Patricia Kujawska’s outsider Jasmin Munchgstettner that should be the heart and soul of this piece and we would have liked to have seen this better explored.
The singing is transportive and song Calling You remains in this version from the film where it was nominated for a 1989 Oscar for best song losing to Carly Simon’s Let The River Run from Working Girl.
Marvin sings with soul and passion and is complemented brilliantly by Le Gateau Chocolat who yet appears far too infrequently and spends most of his time inside a car which appears to have crashed into the front of the stage.
We felt Rice’s Wise Children which we saw at this venue in 2018 was very uneven yet had some real highs not least a show stopping performance from Omari Douglas who went on to star in the all-conquering Channel 4 drama It’s A Sin on Channel 4 this year. Much more consistently wonderful and quirky was her reimagining of Brief Encounter for the stage.
The material here feels slight and it marks an underpowered return to 1 of our favourite venues which we’ve not set foot in since January 2020.
Those who have yet to step foot in a theatre will find the requirement to be in their socially distanced seats up to 40 minutes before showtime reassuring. For those of us who have already experienced full theatres and a return to the nose to nipple seating of old already it feels a little over cautious.