Roll Out The Barrel: Queen Of The Mist At Charing Cross Theatre

Queen of the Mist, Charing Cross Theatre ★★★★☆

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Roll Out The Barrel: Queen Of The Mist At Charing Cross Theatre Queen of the Mist, Charing Cross Theatre 4
Photo: Stephen Russell

When sexagenarian Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, she thought it would lead to fame and fortune. But achieving recognition is one thing — maintaining it is harder. Plus, it was 1901, and people thought a bit differently back then.

Photo: Stephen Russell

Queen Of The Mist is an unconventional musical for an unusual subject. Against the backdrop of anarchists, suffragettes and presidential assassins, a woman designs her own barrel and goes over Niagara Falls — a feat that no one else had yet achieved — as a way to make money and gain financial independence. Yet things don't work out how she envisaged. Her manager Frank Russell (Will Arundel) runs off with the barrel. People lose interest in her story. Suffragettes dismiss her as a carnival act. And she ends up spending the rest of her life (and most of the second act) impoverished and facing life alone.

Photo: Stephen Russell

Trudi Camilleri's performance as Annie Edson Taylor is an achievement on its own. When she's not belting out songs about greatness, she is continuously navigating through the shifting emotions and doubts of the character.

Michael John LaChiusa's chamber musical zeroes in on Annie in the build-up and aftermath of her feat. What's fascinating is how the piece shows her greatest strength was also her weakness. Musicals like Chicago tell the same story of fame and fortune with more sex appeal and a higher body count. But it's rare to see a show that attempts to find the essence of why we do the things we do in such a detailed character study.

Photo: Stephen Russell

It may not be to everyone's taste, but it's imaginatively staged, funny, and the rest of the cast serve the material well in a range of roles. Under the music direction of Connor Fogel, it is also one of the best sounding musicals staged in Charing Cross Theatre.

Queen of the Mist, Charing Cross Theatre, Villiers Street, WC2N 6NL. Tickets £22-30, until 5 October 2019.

Last Updated 21 August 2019