Review by Daz Gale
Riverside Studios are proving themselves to be a valuable and versatile space in London, simultaneously showcasing a diverse programme of shows. While one studio currently has Spy For Spy (reviewed by us last week), next door finds something very different in the shape of Tarantino Live. Part theatre, part concert – it’s a far cry from the studios recent production of Winnie The Pooh. Set to appeal to everyone who loves all of Quentin Tarantino’s iconic movies, would this stage experience prove glorious or would it all go to the dogs?
Tarantino Live is a tricky one to describe. Billed as genre-bending, it takes the movies of Quentin Tarantino and blends them together in a unique structure. It doesn’t so much have a through narrative but is instead split into chapters where multiple movies of his are merged with dialogue and sequences recreated and tied together. The aspect that really brings everything together, however, is the music – with songs that featured in all of these films performed live as part of the scenes.
The European premiere of a show that has already been a hit in America, Studio 2 in Riverside Studios has been transformed to create a setting that feels bigger than its fairly intimate nature. A looking stage, a catwalk with steps leading in to an audience, table seating around and action taking place on a level above the audience. The design element by Matthew Steinbrenner is fantastic and immerses you into Tarantinos world effortlessly – just with less people getting killed.
Anderson Davis both adapts and directs in an ambitious and unconventional manner but one that works exceptionally well for the most part. Mixing together aspects of theatre and concert while throwing in a bit an immersive element , this is a rather unique approach and one that may take a little getting used to – but it doesn’t fail to raise a smile. One of the most admirable qualities is how accessible the whole thing is. Whether you are a Tarantino die-hard who could recite every line from every movie or someone who hasn’t seen as many (if any) of his films, there is something for everyone here, though it does feel like those with an in depth knowledge have the advantage.
A great use of lighting design from Chris Davey and wonderful projections from Z Frame /Perry Freeze creates an aesthetically pleasing show with Sumie Maeda’s choreography bringing some of Tarantinos more memorable sequences to the stage in spectacular fashion. However, it is the sound that really must be commended here. Unashamedly loud to evoke the sense of a rock concert or perhaps the more unsettling moments in the movies, it is always crisp and clear and never distorted – a testament to Ben Harrisons sound design.
A fantastic cast have been gathered together to take on these classic characters with George Maguire moving from one criminal character in Bonnie & Clyde to another in a spectacular turn as Vincent. Brilliantly comedic and captivating, it’s his musicality that makes his performance outstanding. Tara Lee is a revelation as Mia while Karen Mav once again demonstrates a truly phenomenal vocal ability with her turn as Jackie. Lifford David Shillingford is a marvel as Marsellus but it’s Anton Stephans who truly brings the house down with mind-blowing vocals.
Speaking of mind-blowing, the use of songs is, at its best, a joy to witness. Musical numbers that are associated with Tarantinos movies are present in satisfying fashion, with ‘Didn’t I (Blow You Mind This Time)’ an example of brilliant timing. Other musical highlights are the sinister ‘Slaughter’, a truly storming ‘If Love Is A Red Dress’, an especially soulful ‘Let’s Stay Together’ and a crowd-pleasing ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’. Of course, the legendary moment that is ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’ was played out in suitably gruesome fashion while ‘Freedom’ was perhaps the standout performance of the entire evening – completely rousing and breath-taking at its climax.
The admirable genre-busting nature of this show did lead to some perplexing moments with some confusing choices. At times it was fairly stop/start in nature and lacked consistency in parts. If we are to treat this like a conventional show, the pacing was off in parts with the second act lacking the oomph of the superior first. It also ended rather suddenly and felt like it needed something bigger to leave the audience more on a high. But perhaps that was a deliberate choice.
One thing was clear when watching Tarantino Live. This show was a lot of fun and people were loving all it had to offer with a truly great atmosphere during the show. Admirable in its nature to try something different and bring conflicting worlds together, it worked fairly well though wasn’t quite as ground-breaking as it promised with a couple of tweaks needed to elevate this to the next level. The music is undoubtedly the strongest element at play here with vocals for days from a truly talented cast. Seeing such a talented bunch of performers absolutely killing some total classics (in a good way) makes this well worth a watch. For that alone, it’s a hit!
Tarantino Live plays at Riverside Studios until 13th August. Tickets from riversidestudios.co.uk
Photos by Julie Edwards