Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | See What I Wanna See at the Jermyn Street Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | See What I Wanna See at the Jermyn Street Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | See What I Wanna See at the Jermyn Street Theatre
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13 Sep REVIEW: See What I Wanna See at the Jermyn Street Theatre

See What I Wanna See 02“In feudal Japan, two lovers seek to escape a doomed relationship.

In 1951 New York, a body is discovered, but multiple testimonies of how it ended up there stubbornly refuse to align.

In 2002 New York, a priest wrestling with his faith orchestrates a hoax that backfires with unexpected results.”

Three stories, separated by time, space and purpose, are brought together by composer lyricist Michael John LaChiusa into one musical, See What I Wanna See. Featuring a quirky score infused with Latin and jazz rhythms, LaChiusa’s music is like a breath of fresh air and a leap away from traditional musical theatre, surprising and unusual and lending itself beautifully to being performed live in the Jermyn Street Theatre.

As we’ve already come to expect of her, Cassie Compton is all kinds of wonderful, delivering a stunning vocal in every one of her roles, and really turning up the temperature as Japanese lover Kesa. Alongside her, a talented cast are excellent in their main roles but are much less comfortable in the multitude of other parts thrust their way; it doesn’t seem clear if this because of an impossibly demanding set of vocal parts or if the multicasting just doesn’t working, but there are times when the vocals peel away from the score unsatisfyingly.

Despite doing well to find common themes amongst the stories, LaChiusa doesn’t manage to interweave them in any kind of a meaningful way, most apparently in the structure of the musical, featuring two “main” tales – one for each act, with the third “story” reduced to a pair of songs, one opening each act. The result of keeping them separate rather than finding a way to flit between them, is that they just don’t mesh together at all, feeling disparate and isolated, without the opportunity to really get invested in any single one.

See What I Wanna See 01
This difficulty in getting audience buy in is further hindered by the fact that even though the “stories” are all written by acclaimed Japanese writer Rya Akutagawa, at least two of the three actually bear little resemblance to a “story,” without much in the way of progression, plot turns or conclusion. Instead they could be described as mildly interesting “situations,” or “episodes,” but there’s a reason stories usually have that introduction – complication – climax – resolution structure: it works. It makes readers, or audience members, want to find out what happens, and when there is no what happens, it’s tricky to keep everyone engaged.

The final problem is that it seems to be a musical that delivers something very different to what it thinks it delivers. See What I Wanna See promises to: “ask us the question: do we ever see the truth clearly?” To this reviewer, that’s an amazing question, and such fertile grounds for exploration, to challenge the definition of truth and the fabric of knowledge, to test the malleability of memory and consider justice in a world of asymmetric recall. But it’s also a question that the musical doesn’t get near. Take, for example, the body discovered in New York. It would be incredible to see 5 different interpretations of the same sequence of events, with different motives, different contexts and maybe different experiential gaps, all coming together to be mutually supportive, whilst suggesting different truths. But instead, we’re presented with 5 versions of 5 mutually exclusive events, disbarred from the opportunity to find any insight by the fact we only see what’s reported, and never through the characters’ eyes.

All things told, See What I Wanna See is a musical that’s as problematic as it is unusual. Struggling with both form and execution, unless some fairly radical changes are made to knit it all together, it’s hard to imagine another run following the conclusion of this one.

For tickets and information:
Venue: Jermyn Street Theatre
Dates: 8th September – 3rd October 2015
Image: Jamie Scott-Smith

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here