Review: Over the Rainbow

JAMES SURRY is surprised to have sat through this ‘failure on almost every account’… ‘as if in a morphine induced nap’.

Butlins Corn Exchange Eva Cassidy

Wednesday 17th.  7.30 at The Corn Exchange.

Eva Cassidy was almost unknown to the world during her lifetime. After she passed away from Melanoma 14 years ago, Cassidy’s music gained recognition amongst British audiences after her version of “Over The Rainbow” was played by Terry Wogan on Radio 2. Since then, she’s posthumously gone on to sell over eight million records.

Over The Rainbow is an attempt to explore Cassidy’s life as well as her career, whilst weaving in musical performances of the songs Cassidy covered. Over The Rainbow heralded itself as “The Life Story of Eva Cassidy”. Unfortunately, the characters lacked any life, there wasn’t a story as such, and Eva Cassidy as a character was left undeveloped. In hindsight then, the show should have called “The Of”.

Cassidy was depicted by Hollyoaks’ Sarah Jane Buckley as having a constant and unchanging personality between age 5-33. Dressed surreally in a combination of outfits from Asda’s George range (did Cassidy really ever wear polyester three quarter lengths and trainer socks?), Eva was presented as little more than a mentally retarded and naive woman. She said nothing of importance, carved no active role in her own life and ended up looking like a slowly dying Loopy Loo.

The rest of the characters were no better. Cassidy’s father came over looking like a schizophrenic child abuser due to the poorly written dialogue. At one point he is complementing Eva on her guitar playing, the next he is threatening her with his fist for playing a wrong chord. This wouldn’t have been a problem if we had been given the smallest bit of insight into character motivation, but we weren’t.

The plot itself was more than just simplistic: it was lazy. The points of Cassidy’s life that were picked out were obvious choices for narrating an easily digestible bullet point summary of Eva’s career, but these were lacking in poignancy or depth. During scenes where opportunities for interesting character exploration emerged, the writers took the easy way out and stuck to the most rudimentary, simplistic level of emotional expression. The drawn out scenes before Cassidy’s death were a perfect example of this: everything that was said was obviously the first thing that had come to the writer’s mind, and it was so generic it could have been the death of anyone else with a family of empty souls. A long succession of goodbye after goodbye took place, leaving me feeling guilty because all I wanted was for Cassidy to hurry up and die so I go and eat.

The musical performances were slightly better than the rest of the show. Buckley’s voice was impressive in its likeness to Cassidy’s singing style, and some of her renditions were fairly moving. Her performance of Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” was remarkably subtle, and her rendition of “Fields of Gold” brought one member of the audience to tears. Not all of the singing was good though. The entire cast butchered Sledge’s “Dark End of the Street”, leaving me quite upset, as if I’d just seen a friend of mine being beaten to a pulp. And what of “Over the Rainbow”? Well it was slightly too long, and for the whole of its duration you could see up the guitarists shorts. The music didn’t seem to tie in too well with the script either. For example, “Yesterday” was sung after Eva’s father had walked off stage. Buckley laments that “he didn’t say why he had to go”, but he did: dinner was ready.

The second half of the show was better than the first, becoming more of an Butlin’s-equse Eva Cassidy tribute show rather than just a failure on almost every account. There was a bit of audience participation, a bit of smoke machine, and I actually sat through it quite happy as if ina morphine induced nap. It thus redeemed itself and gained the two stars. But the first half? Well, in my notepad there are just pictures of sad faces and question marks.  Nothing more needs to be said.