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The Sorrows of Satan review at Tristan Bates Theatre, London – ‘fun new chamber musical’

Claire-Marie Hall (centre) in the Sorrows of Satan at Tristan Bates Theatre. Photo: Ben Radford
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It is often said that the devil gets all the best tunes. In Luke Bateman and Michael Conley’s modest but accomplished new meta-musical play The Sorrows of Satan, the devil gets to write some of the best ones, too.

When a backer’s audition for a new musical is held in a swanky London apartment, neatly represented in black, white and grey by designer Michael Conley, it turns out that the host and benefactor Prince Lucio Rimanez is actually a version of Satan, offering the show’s young, broke and newly homeless writer Geoffrey Tempest a Faustian pact of professional success and love in return for his soul.

But this devil has other intentions; he also wants creative involvement in the musical, fancying himself as something of a show doctor, and offering up new scenes and songs. There’s a slight air of deja vu here, an echo of shows like The Drowsy Chaperone (also set the 1920s) and Kander and Ebb’s Curtains (in which a detective who comes to solve a murder at the theatre stays to fix the show). But while there’s a familiarity to the knowing jokes about the act of putting musicals together, the show’s creators Bateman and Conley clearly know of both the agony and ecstasy of that process.

Adam Lenson’s witty production expertly navigates the fine line between over-strenuous high camp send-up and a more affectionate level of real charm that it mostly maintains. This is largely thanks to knowing, yet not arch, performances from a terrific quartet, overseen by the sardonic eye (and raised eyebrows) of pianist Stefan Bednarczyk, who is mostly mute but physically very articulate.

A dry eagerness to please mingled with desperation infuses Simon Willmont as the aspiring composer, while Claire-Marie Hall despatches with aplomb (and is regularly despatched) as the potential love interest. But it is Dale Rapley’s suave and sagely devilish Prince that is the centre of attention.

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Fun new British chamber musical that offers a commentary as well as pastiche on the form