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See What I Wanna See review – ‘a fringe treat of a musical’ at Jermyn Street Theatre

Marc Elliott and Cassie Compton in See What I Wanna See at Jermyn Street Theatre. Photo: Jamie Scott-Smith Marc Elliott and Cassie Compton in See What I Wanna See at Jermyn Street Theatre. Photo: Jamie Scott-Smith
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Michael John LaChiusa has written epic masterpieces like a thrilling stage musical version of Edna Ferber’s Giant and the Broadway version of The Wild Party. But in See What I Wanna See, premiered at New York’s Public Theatre in 2005, he wrote just the sort of show I want to see: a chamber musical of constantly changing textures and intense colours about infidelity, faith and different versions of the truth.

And now it gets the production you should see, too: staged with an elegant simplicity by Adam Lenson, it is performed with fearless commitment by its five-strong cast and a superb four-piece band who reveal the intricate rhythms of the score with concentrated precision under MD Richard Bates.

Not that it is an easy show to get to grips with, but it absolutely rewards the attention: on the one hand, its structure can seem eccentric and exasperating, but on the other it is also exhilarating and exceptional, as it tells a reverberating series of separate tales, based on three short stories.

The middle one seen here was also the basis of Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon, here transposed to tell the story of a 1950s Central Park murder told from the shifting perspectives of those involved or witness to it, and it unfolds with a bleakly brilliant intensity. Bookended by another story set in medieval Japan that opens each act, we are also in Central Park for a third story set in post-9/11 New York where a faithless priest sets up a bogus miracle to prove how the world is taken in by false hopes.

The cast have to work hard and fast to establish a canvas of differentiated characters, but five stunning actors do remarkable work. They include theatre choreographer Jonathan Butterell, returning to performing for the first time in over 20 years, whose performance as the troubled priest aches with feeling.

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A fringe treat of a musical that may not be to universal taste but is one of the most flavoursome I've experienced this year