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Miss Saigon

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Four stars

There are two devastating moments in this Cameron Mackintosh-produced touring revival of composer Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyricist Alain Boublil’s Madame Butterfly inspired musical epic that charts the human fallout of the Vietnam War. Three if you count the tellingly unhappy ending. The first comes at the start of the second act, with the use of film footage of Vietnamese street children conceived by American fathers. Accompanied onstage by a group of the play’s statesman-like ex-servicemen singing their hearts out to assuage their guilt, the scene has a similar power to the sort of overblown 1980s charity record it resembles.

The second moment comes when Kim, the young Vietnamese woman who fell for brooding GI Chris three years before, bearing their son in his absence, meets Chris’ American wife, Ellen. Touchingly played by Sooha Kim and Zoe Doano, for a few minutes they are the only two people onstage. It’s a rare moment of intimacy among the busy streams of khaki-clad soldiers and scantily-dressed female employees of the glitzy Saigon brothel run by the big-talking sleaze-ball known only as The Engineer. It is here that Kim and Chris’ fate is sealed in a way that reflects the real-life experience of thousands.

Director Laurence Connor’s surprisingly bombast-free production serves up a fluid staging of a grown-up musical that captures America’s uneasy relationship with Vietnam. Magnificently performed and staged as it is, it is riddled with similar contradictions. Both Chris and Kim are too good to be true. As played by Ashley Gilmour, he’s deep as well as macho, literally a white knight saving the innocent princess from Red Concepcion’s evil Engineer. Even though none of the male characters are remotely likeable, the result remains an astonishing depiction of an unnecessary mess that still leaves its tragic mark.

The Herald, January 22nd 2018


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