War, racism, an Australian Idol winner and some soul classics made for a surprisingly dull evening as Australian musical, The Sapphires, opened at the Barbican last night.
Writer Tony Briggs attempts to breathe life into the true story of his mother’s rise to fame as a singer, following the brash McCrea sisters on their journey from Cummeragunga, New South Wales, to war-torn Vietnam in 1969. Love affairs, family dramas and grisly glimpses at the effects of war ensue, but there's little emotional impact on the audience. Brigg’s script is abrasive and sketchy, jumping from drudging dialogue to excessive characterizations, slap-stick comedy to weighty drama.
Shoehorned in to this terrible tale are the Motown classics we all know and love from Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ to Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard it Through the Grape Vine’. Timeless and catchy, the songs offer some light relief, energized by the discreet but talented five piece band. Sadly the vocals are cruise ship standard at best.
The small but shapely cast attack the halting work with enthusiasm on the back of a successful Australian tour, vigorous and dilettante. But this production lacks the slickness and sparkle expected by London audiences.