Based on the short story The Ugliest Pilgrim by American author Doris Betts; with a book and lyrics by Brian Crawley and music by Tony award winner Jeanine Tesori, Violet the 1997 award-winning off-Broadway musical makes its UK debut at the Charing Cross Theatre.
Set in 1964 in the USA’s Deep South, weeks after the Civil Rights Act has been passed, Violet tells the story of a young disfigured woman’s pilgrimage on a Greyhound bus from her home in the mountains of North Carolina to Tulsa in Oklahoma. Tulsa is the home of a popular television preacher who she believes will heal the ugly scar that runs down the side of her face.
Violet’s facial scar is not visible to the audience but you are made aware of it through the reaction of people towards Violet. As the story unfolds through a series of flashbacks told by a young Violet and her father, the viewer learns of Violet’s past and the accident that caused her disfigurement.
Charing Cross Theatre has been redesigned with blocks of seating either side of a circular centred stage creating an intimate setting. Morgan Large’s set design is simple but highly effective, with wooden clad walls, sparse furniture and metal trunks. The revolving stage efficiently transforms the set taking the viewer on a journey on a Greyhound bus.
Jeanine Tesori’s score is a wonderful mixture of country, gospel and bluegrass, containing memorable songs delivered by a band of nine talented musicians under the direction of Dan Jackson. However, at times it felt that the music overpowered the vocals of the equally talented cast, which was disappointing.
There are strong performances from the two soldiers Violet meets on her journey. Matthew Harvey as the young white arrogant Monty and Jay Marsh as the older black Sargent Flick. Both have terrific voices, I particularly enjoyed Marsh’s delivery of Let it sing.
Kaisa Hammarlund gives an outstanding performance as Violet creating a character that is fierce, defensive, and confident. Hammarlund’s superb acting skills combine perfectly with her amazing voice. Her delivery of Look at me was heart wrenching and so full of emotion, reducing me to tears.
Violet is not a traditional musical, its beauty is in its simplicity. Professional reviewers have described the piece as “lacking the refinement of Fun Home and Caroline, or Change”, Tesori’s previous works. All of us at some point in our lives have been on a personal journey, we have our very own scars, we all seek love and affection, and this is what makes the non-traditional, unforgettable heroine that is Violet so identifiable to us.
Violet runs at the Charing Cross Theatre from 14th January – 6th April 2019.
We say: “Violet is not a traditional musical, its beauty is in its simplicity and Kaisa Hammarlund gives an outstanding, fierce, emotional and confident performance in the title role!”