Review: The Book of Mormon (Prince of Wales Theatre, London)

It’s safe to say that The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales has set itself up for high expectations. With sky-high ticket prices that are setting a standard for premium tickets in the west end, and an advertising campaign that gives virtually nothing but its five-star reviews away, there’s a buzz around the show that has led to a desperate attempt by many to get tickets. But does it live up to those standards? In short, not really.

To set the scene, The Book of Mormon is the creation of Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame. It focuses on the journey of Elder Price (played by Billy Harrigan Tighe) and Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes) and sees the unlikely pair head to Uganda in an effort to convert the villages to the Mormon religion.

While there, the egotistical Elder Price runs into more troubles than he bargained for, and the goofy Elder Cunningham comes into his own and realises his potential. The premise works on paper, but with little exposition beyond that, the whole thing comes across as light. Supported by a solid cast of Alexia Khadime as Nabulungi, Kevin Harvey as Mafala Hatimbi and Stephen Ashfield as Elder McKinley, everyone puts in a great performance, but ultimately they are restricted by weak stereotypical roles.

Pitched as a musical comedy, the humour throughout is largely predictable. And while that predictability means you’re in for a consistent two and a half hour evening, the formula is all too obvious; whenever things start to lull, bring out another joke about yellow people, a c-word or foul-mouthed Jesus to remind everyone that this is overtly offensive and therefore it must be funny.

In fact, it’s by no means as funny as it thinks it is, and although I was clearly in the minority with my lack of laughs (there were some, don’t get me wrong!) the overall tone in the audience was far more sober than I’ve seen in shows of a similar vein.

In the soundtrack, there’s some fine work by Parker, Stone and Robert Lopez. It’s a much more varied soundtrack than Lopez’s previous success Avenue Q, with a great mix of ensemble numbers and a couple of ballads to break them up, but it’s the lyrics that let it down. Again throw in a ‘circumcision’ here and a joke about The Lion King there and you’ll get a sense of the overall tone. This is all about cramming in as many offensive words as possible, rather than clever use of wit.

The high point has to be the oddly uplifting ‘Hasa Diga Ebowai’ (again, a play on The Lion King), which is a great example of a more consistently funny number – even if the humour is too obvious and by the book. And although they all start to blur into one by the end, any number that gives the Mormons a chance to put on their tap shoes and dance in sync is always a high point – it’s as camp as Christmas and it works.

On the staging side of things, Scott Pask’s scenic design is functional rather than creative. Not hugely complex, with the exception of the African village there are very few locations, so everything is relatively static throughout – at times the designs did feel more tour than west end standard. In fact, the nicest part of the design is the church proscenium and curtain, both themed and fitting nicely within the Prince of Wales’s auditorium.

Special mention this time has to go to Casey Nicholaw, whose choreography is wonderful in the ensemble’s bigger numbers; it’s clumsy and frenetic, which both work perfectly in the context of the evening’s better moments.

Verdict: ★★☆☆☆

This is two and a half hours of repetitive humour. I could easily have watched 15 minutes and left feeling exactly the same as I did after the full thing. My recommendation: either find yourself a cheap ticket, or save a fortune and download ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ for 99p and you’ll have heard all of the jokes in a snappy four minutes.

The Book of Mormon is currently booking until 22nd November 2014. Tickets can be booked on the Delfont Mackintosh website

And the seat…

Stalls, row O, seat 8. At £46.50 this is a far more wallet-friendly option than going a few rows further forward and paying between £99 and £152. I’ve read reviews that criticise the Prince of Wales’s rake in the stalls but this didn’t prove to be a problem. The alignment with the seats in front was spot on, giving me a perfect view of all but the sides of the stage. And despite being well underneath the overhang of the circle, which did cut off the very top of the stage, none of the action was obscured.

Prince of Wales Theatre Stalls Row O8
Prince of Wales Theatre Stalls Row O8

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