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21 May 2024

The Artist is a triumphant spectacle

This stage adaptation turns the film into a dazzling theatrical production.

By Zuzanna Lachendro

When the black and white, semi-silent film The Artist was released in 2011, it was an instant critical hit – winning five Oscars in 2012, including the top prize of Best Picture. Now, the movie has been co-adapted by Olivier Award-winning choreographer Drew McOnie and writer Lindsey Ferrentino into a dazzling production, that premiered at Theatre Royal Plymouth on 18 May. It takes the plot of the film – celebrated silent film actor George Valentin (Robbie Fairchild) faces a career crossroads with the introduction of the “talkies” – and turns it into a brilliant stage adaptation, honouring the expressive choreography of the original.
 
This vaudeville-influenced production is a love letter to the glamour of 1920s old Hollywood. From the elegant Art Deco set, tuxedos and drop-waist flapper dresses (designed by Christopher Oram) to the vibrant and uplifting jazz score (by Simon Hale). The muted, cool-toned colour palette of the costumes and set serve as a homage to the glamour of the silent era. Above the stage, evocative videos (designed by Ash J Woodward) are projected: black-and-white footage and text cards of the dialogue mimed and lip-synced by the actors. Though the lip-syncing was at times too fast, the overall effect is captivating.
 
The seamless fusion of Charleston, contemporary and tap is complemented by the music, which builds a playful atmosphere and guides the mood from celebratory to ominous and back again. Fairchild deftly communicates George’s self-righteousness and later desperation, and Briana Craig embodies Peppy Miller’s fervour as she gains her fame. When the use of voice is suddenly introduced in the second half of the performance it surprises and delights the audience (just as the first “talkie” did), as multiple voices come together in a crescendo that overwhelms the protagonist.
 
The show’s blend of enchanting choreography and music propels the narrative forward: as if we were watching not only George’s personal development, but the evolution of cinematography. A fitting tribute to the original film, The Artist is a triumphant spectacle.

[See also: Hofesh Shechter’s From England with Love questions national identity]

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