Prince Edward Theatre London
In the heart of the West End, the Prince Edward Theatre transported us deep into the depths of the Vietnam War. A remarkable and detailed set, Miss Saigon was full of oriental decoration and this vast stage contained so much detail to help us feel as if we had come off the wet streets of winter London and into the slowly destructive slums and alleys during this time of conflict.
It can be argued that a production must firstly rely on its actors performance and not trust that set, lighting and sound must take a centre stage. However, this was different for this show. These elements only enhanced the performance on stage and created phenomenal and easily changing locations, at times it was difficult to comprehend how so much was possible on stage. For example, the piece de resistance of the production for me was the projection of a helicopter coming to land; air conditioning was switched on for a gust across the audience to really feel this and suddenly, a huge functioning helicopter appeared on stage. Gobsmacked is a severe understatement!
This tragic tale of a love story between a Vietnamese girl and an American Soldier and how the war tore them apart contained so many amazing characters. These main character easily professed the sheer Hollywood true love that we only wish to experience; their performances pulling heart-strings of the most cold. Along with the Engineer; a money hungry ‘pimp’ who continues to play a sidekick part in the life of these two star crossed lovers, manages to bring not only a slimy and seedy character that we would expect from such a profession, but also provided much humour – a wonderful way to break the intensity of the heart breaking storyline.
Not knowing exactly the story, it was a shock for me to see scantily clad women (and at one time, also a man) writhing on stage. The movement of these performers was as slimy and seedy as the Engineer, at times a borderline imitation of sexual acts being played out on stage. I began to feel uncomfortable and to really question whether there was a need for acting so obvious to be played out in front of us. Till I warmed up to the reasoning that to feel as the main female character feels in these prostitution dives, we had to also feel as intimidated and uncomfortable as her. And happily, this worked extremely well.
This performance also wouldn’t have been anything without the chorus. The scantily clad women, the Vietnamese and American soldiers and the Vietnamese villagers – all together produced beautiful song and dance numbers, creating the right feeling of fear from the villagers, the seedy yet fear of the prostitutes and the military strict fashion of each sides soldiers.
Miss Saigon managed, what all theatre should do, to create a magical world where despite the unrealistic song and dance, was easily a, what one would assume, realistic representation of this historical period – but theatrically sound and relatable for audiences all the same.