The glory of the Bourbon monarchy, French dragoons, secret diplomacy, issues dealing with transvestites and cross dressing. Combined with music and vibrant period costumes, corps(e) should have been truly awesome. The problem was it didn’t quite match up to expectations.
Under-rehearsed or at least under-prepared would be the best way to describe this show. Although Simon Morrison-Baldwin is a strong actor, he had to constantly refer back to his script. Aside from damaging the professionalism of the performance, it also broke up the fluidity of the story. For example, mid-way through a rant about being a major in the dragoons, Morrison-Baldwin had to stop and look at the script. When he returned to speaking again, the topic had changed to something else entirely. This proved to be rather confusing to follow, and could have been avoided with greater preparation.
The other aspect about the show that was confusing was the writing itself. Although some of the confused timelines and jerky nature of the performance can be attributed to the under-rehearsed nature of the acting, some of the blame must fall on the writing. Although set out in a memoir about d’Eon de Beaumont, the historical narrative seemed particularly jumbled. Whilst the story of this historical person is interesting, and highly worth researching, especially if one has an interest in transgender historical figures and/or rights, the way it was presented in this performance was slightly disappointing.
Another area that had potential but wasn’t fully explored in detail was transgender issues. In the opening, Morrison-Baldwin read several definitions of the term, whilst briefly analysing the history of these terms. Occasionally the issue was brought up again throughout the performance, such as discussing how de Beaumont was torn between his father teaching him how to be a good son, and his mother teaching her how to be a good daughter. However, since transgender issues seemed to be the point of the performance, it seemed odd that the entire scenario didn’t receive too much attention. Even when de Beaumont was officially declared a woman, it seemed distracted and distant from this topic.
Not everything was poor about the performance. The costumes, and costume change that occurred during the show, was interesting. The clothes themselves were well constructed and fairly reflective of late 18th Century French attire, although the uniform for the military was more Napoleonic than Bourbon. Having the slow transition from bearded military officer to almost regal noblewoman was well done, with subtle changes happening throughout the show. Although there were a couple of mishaps (such as the bandages falling off Morrison-Baldwin’s head in the beginning of the show), overall the transition was smooth and well executed.
The other aspect of the show was the music. Despite the occasional forgotten line, the songs were well performed. The pianist was quite good, and the interplay between the two performers was solid. They were well placed to reflect the sentiment of each scene in the performance, for example the touching ballad at the end about not being forgotten reflecting the death of de Beaumont. However, the songs themselves seemed slightly at odds with the rest of the performance. Whilst they did help distinguish individual scenes, they broke up the already disjointed performance. Had the lines been better rehearsed, they would have been much smoother, but as it was it was they simply broke the performance down further. Also, there is something rather peculiar about Broadway and cabaret pieces being associated with Bourbon France.
Overall, the show was a bit disappointing. Although the potential of a fantastic show was there, as was emphasised by the excellent costumes and costume changes, the execution was poor. The under-rehearsed nature of the show had a very large impact on diminishing the quality of the show. This under-rehearsed nature also made a slightly confused timeline in the play seem even more disjointed than it already was. The music was well performed but seemed strange and also broke up the play even further, when it needed to be tighter. The potential for a great show was there, and Morrison-Baldwin had an excellent singing voice, but the show itself was disappointingly average.