'On such a full sea are we now afloat, and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures' Act IV, Scene III, Julius Caesar
This production of Miss Saigon reveals the effect of the action of world powers upon the lives of individuals caught in their conflict. My initial impression did not compound this sentiment explicitly, however as the story grew it became more obvious that these characters are all out of options. ‘Chris’ (Ashley Gilmore), a soldier bound by his duty, and ‘Kim’ (Sooha Kim), the young woman stuck in the middle of the conflict, look for meaning in the war-zone of a battle which is not theirs. Chris and Kim become synonymous with the powers they represent and their romantic duet ‘Sun and Moon’ is a beautiful, if bittersweet demonstration of this. The overbearing presence of these powers is shown by the icons which make repeated incursions into the most intimate moments of the show, such as the impressive Stalinesque icon of Ho Chi Minh that appears behind Kim after she shoots her husband, and the Greek tragi-comic Statue of Liberty visage which interrupts the Engineer’s dream sequence. The audience is, therefore, constantly reminded of the insignificance of these characters in the ‘grand scheme’ by repeated melodies in such powerful ensemble numbers as ‘You will not touch him’. Aicelle Santos and the other girls imagine an escape from their present environs in their strongly delivered lament ‘Movie in my mind’. In his soulful ‘Why God?’, Gilmore appeals to a higher power for guidance on his purpose in the war, and why he will leave Vietnam remembering only one person. ‘Bui Doi’ led by Ryan O’Gorman as ‘John’ was classically moving, and reminds us of the message of memory that is central to this show, however this rendition showed a slight lack of feeling that might stem from the choral and stony formation of the scene. It is arguable that the sung-through nature of this show attributes to a sense of monotony that unfortunately degrades the power of more dramatic parts of the production.
However, ‘the Engineer’, masterfully portrayed by Red Concepción, counteracts this, engaging directly with the audience whilst maintaining a close relationship with the main action, giving ecstatic life to his performance. His role as a mediator and purveyor of trades allows him to straddle the ideological schism into which other characters fall, and provides light relief from the intense ideological backdrop that hangs heavy in the air. To conclude, the actors’ message was powerful, aided visually and audibly by an excellent and professional crew, and also by a superbly finessed ensemble. Overall, Miss Saigon is a very worthy addition to this year’s calendar at the Bristol Hippodrome.