Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Violet review at Charing Cross Theatre, London – ‘gentle quirky charm’

Matthew Harvey and Kaisa Hammarlund in Violet at Charing Cross Theatre, London. Photo: Scott Rylander

Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley’s musical, originally performed Off-Broadway in 1997, is in many ways a classic Bildungsroman, complete with a heroine who goes on both a literal and spiritual journey across America.

Based on Doris Betts’ story The Ugliest Pilgrim, it tells the story Violet (Kaisa Hammarlund), a young woman with a facial disfigurement who travels from North Carolina to Oklahoma in order to meet a television evangelist and be ‘cured’. Along the Greyhound bus route, she embarks on an unlikely friendship (and later romance) with two soldiers in training for Vietnam.

Directed by Shuntaro Fujita, in what is the first co-production for the Charing Cross Theatre with Japan’s Umeda Arts Theatre, Violet has an abundance of gentle quirky charm.

Tesori’s upbeat score is full of nods to Country and Bluegrass. On the whole, the cast sing it well – despite the sound mix making it difficult to decipher the lyrics at points – with Jay Marsh, as Army recruit Flick, providing some lovely, melodic pop notes in solo number Let It Sing.

Hammarlund, who also starred in Tesori’s Fun Home, makes a likeable Violet, her childish glee at movie stars and preachers both sympathetic and pitiable.

With a plot that flashes between the past and the present, the action gets a little muddled in places and there isn’t much in the way of narrative propulsion. But, these things aside, the show has enough heart to just about see it through, making Violet’s late acceptance of herself and her looks a satisfying conclusion.

Fun Home composer Jeanine Tesori: ‘Musicals are slippery, but I love the puzzle of them’

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Kaisa Hammarlund gives a warm performance in Jeanine Tesori’s wholesome, if slightly kitsch, musical