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MISS SAIGON | STAGE REVIEW

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MISS SAIGON. Company. Photo Johan PerssonMISS SAIGON | STAGE REVIEW

5stars

 

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Tue 5 Dec

Cameron Mackintosh, the godfather of musicals, is at the helm of this new adaptation of the adaptation of Puccini’s 1903 opera Madam Butterfly. The theme of war, lost lovers, lives and children, is not a new one but still a powerful, heartwrenching tale. At the centre is a clash of cultures never more vividly experienced than the Vietnam War, on which this is centred around, and the legacy left behind: thousands of orphans as a result of relations between servicemen and Vietnamese girls, usually prostitutes. These offspring – the Bui Doi or ‘dust of life’ – were ostracised at home and were a source of guilt for the American government, a theme which resonates throughout Miss Saigon.

The opening sequence sees Kim, a country girl, in the middle of Saigon, desperately trying to find her way in a brutal and crazy place. Taken in to a brothel by the ‘engineer’, brilliantly played by Red Concepcion, as the pimp he both embraces and understands the Western ways, and provides girls for the GIs. You loathe his character but his cheeky, camp ways endear you despite his greed. His showstopping number The American Dream smacks of Life Is Cabaret from Cabaret, with stupendous set designs and dancing girls. Very soon, Kim meets and falls in love with GI Chris, played by Ashley Gilmour – a good-looking, all-American boy, he falls for her as the war intensifies, breaking them apart, but not before they marry in a traditional Vietnamese ceremony.

The scene where the helicopter descends into the compound to take the remaining GIs home is incredible. The whole theatre was under siege by a thunderous propellers and spotlights: it literally felt like an Apache helicopter in the auditorium. The story moves on to a few years later – Kim now with a young son, still desperately in love with Chris and trying to reach America. Played beautifully by Sooha Kim, for such a tiny lady, her voice is incredibly powerful. The set pieces and scenery are brilliantly contrived too, the dancing scene in front of a garish Statue Of Liberty and Chinese Dragon adding drama to an already dramatic piece of theatre.

Ultimately, the East and West collide in Miss Saigon with devastating and tragic results – no-one comes out unscathed or tainted in some way. The cast is exceptional and this is a masterclass in theatre production. The sad and brutal truth, though, is that many elements of this story are based on fact: the Vietnam war was brutal and relentless, and Kipling’s immortal phrase ‘lest we forget’ applies.

words ANTONIA LEVAY

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