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Marguerite

PUBLISHED: 15:37 07 August 2008 | UPDATED: 13:20 24 August 2010

By Katherine Ormerod The poster for Marguerite is intoxicating. Ruthie Henshall with her classic femme fetale looks, clad in a Gilda-esque long red dress seducing you and your hard-earned cash. The critical plaudits orgasmically announ

By Katherine Ormerod

The poster for Marguerite is intoxicating.

Ruthie Henshall with her classic femme fetale looks, clad in a Gilda-esque long red dress seducing you and your hard-earned cash.

The critical plaudits orgasmically announce that Marguerite is the best show in town, and with the fabulous plotline, I was ridiculously excited to see how the musical would stand up especially as it is the newest offering from Oscar-winning Michael Legrand and author Alain Boublil (of Les Mis fame and fortune).

With musicals it seems, you either love or hate them, and I am solidly in the first camp.

Which made my disappointment all the more wrenching.

The problem with living in London is that you are constantly bombarded with a subtle form of (often subliminal) persuasion.

Billboards at the tube, the moving adverts as you ascend up the escalator and images in magazines and free papers constantly nudging you to think this or that.

These underhand devices had already convinced me that I was going to LOVE Marguerite.

It started well, and the supporting cast cannot be faulted.

They tell the story of Vichy France, the government of occupation during WW II.

We follow the world of the Establishment which collaborated with Hitler's purges, voluntarily increasing sanctions against the native Jewish population.

This is definitely not a story that French nationalists would be comfortable with, and there is something ballsy about the way the story challenges the public memory - memories which most French people are quite happy to sweep under the carpet.

Marguerite, the concubine of Otto the German general, an ex chanteuse with a wild streak, based loosely on the classic fallen heroine Marie Duplessis, falls madly in love with a (you guessed it penniless) piano player.

Their love story goes against all boundaries of class, politics and morality and in the whirlwind, family and friendship bonds are forsaken as the wrath of Otto is incurred.

The story unfolds beautifully as you see Marguerite's golden days decline.

As the war draws to a close, her 'friends' who now profess to love all Jews move to spurn Marguerite.

The final scene is a poignant reminder of the plight of many victims after victory was declared as Marguerite is kicked to the ground and her head shaven: a ritual humiliation experienced by many a 'female fraterniser'.

So far so good.

Unfortunately Ruthie Henshall's voice repulsed every inch of my soul. It set my teeth on edge and totally diminished my enjoyment throughout the production. Critics have praised her training and control, but as far as I could hear that training amounted to warbling, (not quite Mariah) girlish whining and an ability to obscure every single words she sang. Horses for courses and all that, but really, when I think musical voice - I think pure, clear, powerful belters, infused with passion. As so often when you do not believe in the main character, it is difficult to believe in the story. Go to see Marguerite, but my advice is to wait until the lead is replaced - hopefully with someone whose voice does not degrade the music to schmaltzy, wordless whimpers.

times.series@archant.co.uk

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