Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Bodyguard

Image Source: Liverpool
Empire Theatre
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Romantic Thriller
Genre: Musical
Date: April 27 2016
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre

The Bodyguard left a lasting impression within seconds of the show beginning.

Unlike most shows, which have a slow and gradual opening - the type where the audience knows "Oh, the show is about to start" - The Bodyguard quite literally kicks off with a bang. I won't spoil it too much for those who plan to see the show, but I will simply advise potential attendees to be on guard, as you may be in for a bit of a shock. I know I was because I was drinking water at the time and ... well, let's just say that there was a lot less water in the bottle after the show's opening moments!

I had to mention that because it was such a memorable way to begin proceedings. But don't think from this that the show was uneventful or that the show was about comedy. While it did have light moments, The Bodyguard was a thoroughly gripping show, and it played out like a true thriller on stage. As with the movie on which the show was based, The Bodyguard took viewers on a journey that had a clear destination, with twists and turns ensuring that the outcome would be unpredictable.

Alexandra Burke, who won The X Factor in 2008, is cast in a near-perfect role by playing Rachel Marron, an American superstar singer who has previously been nominated for two Academy Awards but is now looking to make it third time lucky at this year's Oscars. Her sister Nicky (played here by Rachel John) is also a very talented singer, but one who doesn't get anywhere near as much attention as the more famous Rachel. But while there is tension and jealousy between the sisters, the bigger concern is that Rachel is receiving death threats from a stalker, who has a relentless pursuit to kill the star performer. So, a bodyguard by the name of Frank Farmer (Stuart Reid) is hired to protect her at all costs.

Frank takes his bodyguard duties extremely seriously, which initially breeds resentment from some, especially Rachel. But after a close call at one of Rachel's performances where Frank comes to the rescue, she starts to trust her protector more, and they even begin to develop a relationship. Which is to the dismay of Nicky, who having already felt neglected due to Rachel's popularity, has also developed feelings for Frank after he watched her sing at a local bar.

As the tension between the sisters continues, the relationship between Rachel and Frank has ups and downs due to the increased concern about her safety. Meanwhile, her stalker (played by Matthew Stathers) continues threatening Rachel and gets closer and closer to achieving his twisted goal. I won't talk any further about the plot, as it would include some big spoilers, but needless to say the Academy Awards remain Rachel's target, but will she make it there? And if she does, will she survive through the ceremony? (I could include a joke here about the dullness of certain award ceremonies but I won't.) And how will those around her be affected by the series of events surrounding Rachel, her fame and her stalker?

As noted, the storytelling is paced just right, ensuring that we get enough bright moments (through singing performances) to counter the more sinister and sad events of the show. The production provides suspense not just through the story itself but through the use of thriller techniques like sudden appearances, scary close-ups and tense music, which combined with a giant screen which shows relevant images and footage at various points add a lot of value to the show.

All involved play their roles well, but particular praise must go to Stuart Reid for his outstanding portrayal of Frank Farmer. Whilst mostly a serious character, he also manages to find the balance between ultra-serious bodyguard and approachable friend and associate (to Rachel and her son Fletcher, played here by Josiah Choto) just right, making him a far more believable and likeable character. Whilst Rachel has her doubts, Frank is always shown to have the right intentions, and never makes suggestions to protect her which seem unreasonable. Even when his position is called into question by him getting closer with Rachel, we don't see too much whereby his character is dramatically altered, and he quickly takes a stand before too much damage is done. What's more, during one scene whereby Rachel convinces him to sing at a karaoke bar, he delivers a deliberately poor yet entirely believable and humorous performance, which is actually a difficult thing to pull off in a show that has a largely serious tone. When it comes to acting, Stuart is the star of the show.

When it comes to singing, however, Alexandra Burke truly shines as Rachel Marron. The opening scene is very X-Factor-esque, but from then on Alexandra truly becomes Rachel and perfectly steps into the shoes of the Oscar-nominated performer. Her acting is very good, but it's her singing which will blow audiences away, even for those who already know of her as a very talented singer. The show includes the famous numbers from the movie including I Have Nothing, Run To You and, of course, I Will Always Love You (which Alexandra performs spectacularly in the highlight of the evening), but the rest of the soundtrack in the theatre is largely based around the work of Whitney Houston, who played Rachel in the 1992 film. I'm Every Woman, I Wanna Dance With Somebody (repeated in a high-energy encore at the very end), Saving All My Love and Million Dollar Bill are amongst the tunes, and Burke does a tremendous job of, at these points, stepping into the shoes of Whitney Houston.

It should also be noted that, mirroring the story of the show, Rachel John is also a superb singer during the scenes when she gets to display her vocal range (particularly the slower and more emotional songs); anyone watching this will obviously be impressed by Alexandra, but Rachel John's singing will also leave a lasting impression and, in any other show (or possibly even this one), would be considered the best singer of the production. And Max Fletcher does a fantastic job during his less frequent scenes as Fletcher, Rachel's son, by simply being an innocent kid, at times oblivious but at other points keenly aware of the events surrounding his family. There are minor differences between the movie and the show besides its soundtrack, but I won't list them here as they include plot spoilers, and they should not affect your enjoyment of the show if you have also previously seen the film.

To conclude, I thought that The Bodyguard show was exceptional. The story is well-paced and told very clearly; every key performer plays their part very well, especially Stuart Reid as Frank Farmer; the tension and suspense is produced brilliantly (look at the intro for proof of that); and the singing is absolutely first-class. Whitney fans will particularly enjoy what at times feels like a tribute to her career, and those who watched the film may decide that this theatre incarnation is even superior to the movie. Definitely go and see The Bodyguard; it is one of the best shows that I have seen this year.

Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding

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