Could whoever understands what just happened please put their hand up? After 90 minutes of intoxicatingly glorious music and theatre I emerged in a gentrified London alley bewildered, entertained and more than a little in love… so it’s good to see the new Boulevard Theatre is living up to its formerly disreputable Soho location.
Yes, it’s ANOTHER new London theatre, but this one holds a unique position. Boulevard Theatre sits above Soho’s notorious Walker’s Court taking the space famously held by the Raymond Revue Bar. Of course, this is Soho, so the once dirty (literally and figuratively) location is now scrubbed clean and housing brand new apartments for the international 1%. So I walked in rather wanting to hate the place… but I didn’t. Is this gentrification done right? That might be going too far, but it’s not as sacrilegious as I imagined. The location’s decadent past is preserved in pictures along the walls, the new bar/restaurant is clothed in shades of millennial pink and the price tag – remarkably cheap! You definitely won’t feel mugged when you leave.
And the inaugural show is Dave Malloy’s Ghost Quartet. A cast of four multi-instrumental performers weave tales of death and the supernatural into a concoction that refuses to reveal itself fully – but draws you in nonetheless. This is my grandiose way of saying I have no damn clue what the show was about, and I definitely don’t care. This blend of folk/gospel/honky-tonk/jazz seduced me, filling my head with fantasies and left me wanting more.
It doesn’t hurt that the quartet includes some of my favourite performers. Zubin Varla (so brilliant in Equus and Fun Home) and Carly Bawden (who anchored the adorable Romantics Anonymous among others) were known quantities to me, but Maimuna Memon was a revelation. The quartet is rounded out by Niccolò Curradi, a master of stringed instruments and comedic asides. The fact they handed whiskey out to the audience didn’t hurt either.
Presented in the round, the set by Simon Kenney is full of lost things and makes great use of the theatre’s lighting (Emma Chapman on lights). Full credit to Dave Malloy for this rich and complex piece that hits you like a drug, takes you on a warm, luxurious high, and leaves you in bliss.
I’ll be back to the Boulevard soon – it’s an interesting, intimate space with a great bar (and well-priced restaurant). And as soon as anyone announces a production of Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, I’ll be handing over my cash!