Review: The Bodyguard (Dominion Theatre, London)

Let me be completely blunt about one thing: 95% of the people watching The Bodyguard on any given night are there to see one thing and one thing only, and that’s somebody belting out Whitney Houston songs. So it really doesn’t matter how good the story may or may not be, or how well acted it is, or what the set looks like, because if the audience leaves having had the chance to have a little cry and has been able dance around at the curtain call, they won’t care less…

Based on the movie of the same name, The Bodyguard looks at the turbulent relationship between superstar Rachel Marron and the head of her security team Frank Farmer. Rachel is being threatened by an unknown stalker and needs protection while she stubbornly (and recklessly) continues to perform. It’s all very thriller by numbers with a romance thrown in to keep things interesting.

Direction by Thea Sharrock and Alexander Dinelaris – While this production has evolved since the original west end run, I’m told that for the most part it’s still very much in keeping. If there’s one thing for sure, it’s hardly high art, but then it doesn’t pretend to be. Large parts of the production are more concert than musical, and so there’s only so much room for Sharrock to really direct any major action. The moments that are story-led are perfectly serviceable, directed with enough humour and thrills to move the evening along nicely, but if you’re expecting a fully fleshed out musical with the highs and lows of one that’s based on an original score, you’ll be disappointed.

Writing by Alexander Dinelaris – I’ve never seen the film on which this is based but I’m reliably informed that the musical takes some liberties in adapting it for the stage, and from what I can tell it mostly opts for dumbing it down. Not that the story is the most complex in the world to begin with, but there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a glorified jukebox musical. Any scenes that slot in between the songs, such as the stalker prepping his plans (inexplicably shirtless every time) or the rehearsal room add little to the overall narrative, and only sparingly add to the character development. That said, the format of this jarred with me far less than other jukebox musicals I’ve seen, and that’s largely down to the fact that the songs aren’t masqueraded as moments of plot development (see Mamma Mia!…).

Choreography by Karen Bruce – It’s fair to say that any choreography in the show is largely there to support the moments when Rachel is in concert. There were times when, on the Dominion’s stage, the cast looked a little swamped and could have done with a few extra friends to add strength to the dance numbers, but for the most part I was far too pre-occupied hating myself for not spending all day in the gym to care enough.

Set design by Tim Hatley – There’s nothing really to shout home about in the way of the set. While it’s poor by west end standards, primarily made up of sliders coming in from either side of the stage, and basic layouts of different rooms, it barely touches the sides of the chasm that is the Dominion. It’s worth remembering that this is the tour set, though, so has been adapted to fit multiple venues, and I’m sure in some of the smaller regional theatres, it looks far more fitting.

Music by Misc – As I mentioned, this is really what the punters are there to hear. From the rousing ballads to the foot-tapping dance numbers, I’m sure there were a healthy number of patrons who were mumbling along under their breaths (thankfully, none around me!). And in the hands of Beverley Knight, it’s hard to imagine them sounding any better. Even in her heyday, I’ve seen videos of Whitney not managing to pull them off to the same standard. The music is used well throughout, never taking over the story, but often supporting it. Highlights have to be the ‘Run to You’ duet, the opening number (fire canons are always a plus…) and the audible gasp by the audience at the start of ‘I Will Always Love You’.

The cast – This is a very healthy cast, complete with (been there, done that) Beverley Knight making a return visit to the role, (everyone’s seen him on TV) Ben Richards, and (Beverley Knight’s shadow) Rachel John. All of them are perfectly fine in their roles – Richards being an ever-brooding presence and John adding a touching (if underdeveloped) addition as Rachel’s sister – but there’s no escaping the fact that nobody is given the chance to really run with their characters because of the distinct lack of story between musical moments. Knight seems to have brought her southern accent from Memphis with her (although admittedly, it was the first preview, so I’m sure this will ease out) but had plenty of attitude to match her ridiculously impressive vocals.

  • Beverley Knight (Rachel Marron)
  • Ben Richards (Frank Farmer)
  • Rachel John (Nicki Marron)
  • Dominic Taylor (Sy Spector)

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Because of the story’s misgivings, it would be unfair to give this more than three, despite the fact that I had a jolly good evening. I sang along (in my head), I bawled like a baby at the finale, and I very nearly joined in with the girl next to me who shouted at the top of her lungs, ‘You go, girl!’ as Knight ascended to once again show why she’s one of this country’s most gifted vocalists

The Bodyguard is running at the Dominion Theatre until 7th January 2017. Tickets are available from the Dominion Theatre website.

And the view…

Circle, Row A, Seat 13. OK, so this is marked as a restricted view seat and is priced a whopping £20 lower than the seat to the left of it. Apparently there’s a rail the gets in the way. Well, the rail is absolute nowhere near the sightline of the stage, and the seat was both comfortable and had an uninterrupted view. Surely this is one of the best bargains in the west end for the price bracket.

Dominion Theatre, Circle, Row A, Seat 13

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