'She' in Cheltenham 2012: A Review by Simon Lewis (The Echo)
The rock opera remains a rarity, but every so often, a new one drops by and grabs you forcefully by the throat. Into this distinguished fraternity strides Clive Nolan’s 'She', an exotic, visually stunning pageant that is Cleopatra grafted onto 'Journey tothe Centre of the Earth', and set to a driving music score that evokes the great days of progressive rock.
Nonetheless, anyone unfamiliar with the original novel, to which this striking interpretation remains largely faithful, might well have a hard time following the storyline and working out who’s who. The curse that threatened to undo this brilliantly-conceived adaptation of Rider Haggard’s tale and compromise its long-anticipated European première was the sound system: for the better part of its two-hour duration, it was all a shade too loud, especially for an intimate theatre like the Playhouse, and much of the singing, though strong and convincing throughout, was frustratingly unclear. Increased volume doesn’t always equal excellence, yet for all that, the music itself was bold, symphonic, martial, even savage, and imbued with powerful echoes of Pink Floyd, Genesis and Jean-Michel Jarre. Ethereal, haunting choruses reverberated round the auditorium, and the capable cast carried it all off with tremendous conviction, even if some of the acting was a tad wooden, and a few wobbles plagued the gilded dancers, when not crowded out by the sheer strength of on-stage numbers. Despite straining a bit, Alan Reed injected substantial clout into the role of Holly, articulate David Clifford was a tower of strength as Leo, and richly resonant Peter Hughes invested chieftain Billali with considerable grandeur and dignity. Agnieszka Swita’s impassioned portrayal of the mysterious heroine Ayesha was as glittering as her eye-catching gowns, while sweet songbird Soheila Clifford commanded all attention late on as the gorgeous Rehani. Christina Booth smouldered as the sultry, but doomed Ustane, and her dying lament ranked among the evening’s finest moments.
The net result was a highly absorbing piece of alternative musical theatre; dark, atmospheric, primitive and replete with engaging, beautifully lit tableaux played out on Mike Barwick’s thoughtful, cavernous set that cleverly framed the accomplished band, as though it were caught in the jaws of a giant, prehistoric shark. Deserving its prolonged ovation at the final curtain, it could easily, however, have ended up buried under layers of excessive amplification, requiring the sound team equivalent of an archaeological expedition to dig it up and reveal its full glory, because this She is dripping with it, and must be seen - if there are any returns.