Tag Archives: Stewart Clarke

Ghost in the Machinery


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 4th June, 2013


Joining the lengthening list of stage musicals that were originally films (the bland Legally Blonde, for example, or the divine Sister Act) is this fairly straight adaptation by Bruce Joel Rubin of his own original, Oscar-winning screenplay. The production goes full out with the bells and whistles.  Things have come a long way since Pepper’s Ghost.  Lorry-loads of screens, gauzes and projectors make the world of the show, forever changing in configuration.  Moving images locate scenes specifically – a cityscape, a bank – but also enhance the musicality; shapes and symbols whizz by, and the chorus is multiplied as ghostly figures join in with the dancing.  It’s like the early days of MTV.

Of course, we anticipate the supernatural effects. How will they be achieved?  They do not disappoint.  In particular, there is one sequence on a subway train that is stunningly effective and effect-full. I found myself puzzling over how these effects were created, yanked out of any emotional attachment to the story by my theatrical curiosity.  

Not that I was deeply involved anyway.  The story is simple one. Young man gets murdered, comes back as the titular ghost to warn his girlfriend that she is in danger from his killer… The two leads are good.  Stewart Clarke is banker Sam Wheat, although he looks more like he should be modelling gym equipment, crunching abs rather than numbers.  I found him a little too shouty after his demise, his voice amplified too much.  This is a very loud show.  Rebecca Trehearn is bereaved girlfriend Molly – a thankless role that requires her to grieve volubly for a couple of hours.  She sings well, belting out long note after long note; tied semibreves are her leitmotif, it seems.

The score by Eurhythmics legend Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard is serviceable but not particularly memorable.  The best tune in it is the appropriated Unchained Melody that crops up from time to time as ‘their’ song.

Ghost really comes to life, ha ha, whenever Wendy Mae Brown is on stage.  She plays psychic charlatan Oda Mae Brown (no relation) a kind of Deep South Derek Acorah through whom Sam seeks to communicate with Molly.  All the comedy of the piece stems from this character and Wendy Mae Brown works it with all the eye-rolling and sass she can muster. It seems to me that Oda Mae’s story is the more interesting one: the con artist who discovers she really has a ‘gift’ after all.

Ivan de Freitas is suitably grungy as rent-a-bad-guy Willy Lopez and David Roberts shows smarm and selfishness to the Machiavellian and treacherous Carl.  Stevie Hutchinson brings impressive physicality to his role as the ‘Subway Ghost’- It’s a shame about the rap, though.  I found the dialogue scenes work much better on the whole than the musical numbers. 

Technically and visually, the production is astounding, but it’s as if the show won’t relinquish its cinematic origins.  I found the story dwarfed by the machinery – what could be a look into the grieving process (through the prisms of thriller and romantic comedy) instead becomes a metaphor for the way in which technology dominates our lives.