Review: The Bodyguard (Theatre Royal, Glasgow)
A moth-eaten musical that is one cliché short of parody
When I was a child my grandmother told me that all stories follow roughly the same formula; boy meets girl, they fall in love, something goes wrong, they break up, and at the end they have to decide whether to get back together or break up forever. It did not take me long to figure out that this said more about my grandmother’s reading habits than it did about storytelling. Tired as it may be, it is a formula that appeals to a great many people, and nothing exemplifies that more than the popularity of The Bodyguard. Based on the 1992 film, it features a beloved soundtrack that has become synonymous with its star Whitney Houston, such as “I Will Always Love You” and “I’m Every Woman”.
Photo Credit: Richard Campbell
In the enemies-to-lovers tale pop star Rachel Marron (Emily Williams) starts receiving threatening letters but refuses to compromise her lifestyle, and former bodyguard Frank Farmer (Ayden Callaghan) is convinced to come out of retirement to protect her. It’s a story that offers no surprises, but even formulas need to be knowing and coherent. The script fires cliché after cliché, with dialogue that is far too dry and obvious to add any flavour in the process. Worse still it feels as though the plot is ignoring its own stakes. When a key character is killed in the third act I hoped it would finally trigger some action or emotion, but the others recover from the loss with baffling swiftness. Ok, but plot and dialogue aside, perhaps the musical could still offer spectacle? Well, not with Tim Hatley’s design it can’t. The set does nothing to either bring the story up to date or solidify it in the 90s. Worse still are the costumes. From the unfashionable fedoras, to the ill-fitting jeggings, to the sequined high-top trainers, everything looks like it belongs in an H&M sale, not on the world’s biggest pop sensation. The choreography too is stiff and out of synch, look too long at any one dancer and you will spot an error. So the setting may feel as stale as the story, but with some knowing direction and a pair of lively performers with great chemistry, maybe it could still be salvageable? Alas, we will never know.
Williams has a beautiful singing voice; in every number she performs with gusto and piercing precision. But Rachel is a hard character to like. She is arrogant, entitled, reckless, and completely dismissive of her sister Nicki’s (Emily-Mae) interests and ambitions. If that weren’t bad enough Williams fails to bring any enthusiasm or expression to the role: she is bored performing for the crowds and grumpy talking to any other characters, so there isn’t a moment where you can sympathise with her. Emily-Mae, incidentally, gives easily the best performance of the night. Her performance is tender, conflicted, and well-timed, and even though it is clear that between her and Williams one is the better singer and the other a better actress, I know which performance I prefer. As for Callaghan, all he brings to the role of Frank is a deep voice and the ability to memorise lines.
Photo Credit: Richard Campbell
It would take very little to turn this self-serious fluff into parody. One could be generous and say that cheese and familiarity are there to be enjoyed, but even at the time of the film’s release it was being called “melodramatic” and “trashy”. There is nothing classic about this musical to hang your hat on, and it has only become more stale with time. The soundtrack is as iconic as ever and is delivered by a talented singer, but the minimum requirement for seeing a musical is that it must offer more than a tribute night. Even for fans of heteronormative formulas and nostalgia, musical theatre audiences are owed much more than The Bodyguard. Two stars.
Whispers from the Crowd: "Really good! It was fantastic!"
The Bodyguard has no longer touring