Left in a bind [by Matt Baker]
With the right vehicle a musician can stake their claim in the world of acting. From Madonna in 1996’s Evita to Melanie Brown in the 2004 revival of Rent, the musical stage and screen is becoming readily accepted as a platform on which such musical artists may step. I was excited at the prospect of not only seeing the one-woman Andrew Lloyd Webber show Tell Me On A Sunday for the first time, but for the fact that Carly Binding was that one woman. However, with David Coddington at the wheel as director, this vehicle could be Binding’s tomb.
The fact that Coddington is not only the Associate Director of the South Seas Film and TV School which he co-founded in 1991 (the on-screen acting course of which he developed 10 years later), but is also the Head of the School of Performing Arts at the Manukau Institute of Technology is genuinely terrifying.
My heart goes out to Binding who has been left to, certainly not strut, but fret her hour upon the stage with some of the most superfluous stage direction I’ve ever seen. She is full of sound, but no fury, which leads to me wonder whether Coddington actually delved into anything to do with the concept of reacting truthfully under imaginary circumstances with Binding, because there is clearly something in her which wants to break out, but hasn’t been shown how to.
Binding has a lovely voice and it is easy to see why both her albums and singles have done well in the New Zealand charts and on Australian radio play. However, her vocal prowess is in a different league to that which is required for an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Her belt is almost non-existent, and there is a lack of change between the parts of the story which are narrative and those which are inner monologues. In musicals, one sings because they cannot express themselves simply in words. However, they must be able to tell the story of the song without the music, to be able to deliver the lyrics as a mere monologue. I wonder if Coddington ever asked Binding to simply speak the entire show.
Musical Director Robin Kelly ranged between dogmatic gestures to keep drummer Adam Tobeck in time and shared smiles with bass player Graham Trail. Violinist/Saxophonist Alex Taylor, while taking on a recognisably skillful duel role, hits the odd note that due to the place in the composition and instruments from which they come is also recognisable. However, the band themselves are skillful musicians, and these issues are most likely due to opening night nerves and a lack of rehearsal time in the performance space. Backing singers Melanie Himiona, Aletta Johnson, and Milly Grant are invisible at best and distracting at worst.
Having enjoyed much of lighting designer Brad Hill’s work in the past, I cannot help but feel that he was also at the mercy of Coddington’s general wash. Aside from a spot on the desk stage right (which worked well) and a spot on the couch stage left (which didn’t), the entire show felt like a spectrum style screensaver, morphing from a tacky jazz-blue to an even tackier red-light-district-red.
A one-woman show is a challenge for the best of actresses, and Coddington has done no favours for Binding, leaving her alone on stage with no story or natural progression to help her drive the show. For her debut performance as a lead in a musical, Binding warranted much more than she was afforded. With the right vocal role (or even Kelly creating arrangements to suit her) and the right director, I don’t see why Binding couldn’t make the transition she genuinely wants and deservedly should have the opportunity to pursue.
Tell me on a Sunday is presented by The Real Theatre Company plays at Q until 24th November. More details see Q.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Adey Ramsel