SOPHIE MEADOWS reviews UCLU’s Musical Theatre Society’s production of ‘Parade’ at the Bloomsbury Theatre.
When a 13 year old girl is found dead in the factory in which she works, it becomes clear to those in Atlanta’s public office that someone must be held responsible: ‘someone’s gotta pay’. More eager to convict a person than find the actual culprit for what is determined to be murder, the community quickly turn on an outsider: the factory’s owner, a jew from Brooklyn.
Accused of Mary Phagan’s (Pollyanna Cohen) murder, Mr Frank has little chance of defending himself when manufactured evidence is stacked against him in court. Vincenzo Monachello plays the alienated, prudish Leo Frank who is beginning to realise that being southern doesn’t mean just living in the south. Monachello’s versatility is unexpectedly demonstrated when he comes out of his strait-laced, despairing role, to briefly adopt that of a creepy, manipulative seducer who makes the audience’s skin crawl.
Frank’s wife Lucille is equally well cast. Heather Barnish’s soaring and evidently trained voice is a highlight of the show, as is her admirable Georgian accent. Her tenderness towards her husband and resilience during their difficult time is conveyed. Their duet towards the end of the play is particularly memorable, and the minimalist set of scaffolding creates levels which allows the metaphorical coming together of people who are thinking of each other, yet physically apart.
Directed thoughtfully so that the production does not become stagnant, chorus scenes intersperse the more intense individual songs, and are full of energy. Collectively the cast portray the impact of the death of a young girl on the community, whose anger and sadness is palpable. A close friend of Mary, Frankie (Ross Tomlinson) charismatic and endearingly obnoxious at the start of the play, before becoming heavily embittered.
Harlan Davies gives a bold and triumphant performance as Newt Lee, the caretaker who finds Mary’s body at the factory. He doubles up impressively by also acting the part of Jim Conley, coming into his own during the blues number towards the end of the play. Krupa Narayanan playing the maid Riley, provides a ‘downstairs’ perspective on events, interestingly suggesting the resentment at the drama over the conviction of a white man for hanging, when ‘there’s a black man hanging from every tree’. Satisfyingly sassy, Narayanan’s astounding voice makes her perhaps deserving of a bigger part.
During the first act, the jazz band unfortunately overpowered the vocals at some points, whilst the chorus overwhelmed some individual singers. Largely though the music was wonderful, and the jazz band offset the drama nicely, emphasising moments of tension or excitement. Alongside the music, dance was brilliantly incorporated throughout, with subtle choreography offsetting individual’s characteristics or emotions.
The production’s title refers both to the Memorial Day parade during which Mary is killed, but also to the giving of false evidence during Mr Frank’s trail, which becomes a carnivalesque spectacle of brazen and shameless scapegoating.
‘Parade’ provides bravado, charm and tragedy and is a fantastic display of UCL talent.
‘Parade’ is showing until the 29 November. For more info and tickets click HERE
All images credited to Emilie Skaff