Miss Saigon has been winning awards and standing ovations aplenty in London’s West End. Katy Wheeler went along to the show to see what all the fuss is about.
The searing heat and passion of Saigon on the cusp of its fall during the Vietnam War is realised vibrantly in this new production of a heart-rending classic.
A pot of tension bubbles as American GIs clash culturally with the Asian locals.
The scene is set brilliantly as desperate girls terrified by war sell their bodies in the Dreamland Club, watched over by the seedy – but infectiously funny – Engineer.
Dreamland is anything but a dream: it’s crude, it’s brash, it’s a land where morals are left at the door.
But amidst the gaudy degradation, love blossoms as heroine Kim (played with great intensity by Eva Noblezada) meets dashing GI Chris, played by Alistair Brammer.
And so begins the journey of the star-crossed lovers against the backdrop of a country that’s being ravaged by war.
It’s hard to believe this is Noblezada’s professional debut as she deftly portrays the vulnerable side of the go go dancer whose heart becomes a casualty of war. Scenes such as Kim’s Nightmare, in which we retrospectively see the fall of Saigon and the ripping apart of the lovers hits you with a wrecking ball of emotion.
As a spectacle, it features the famous helicopter scene which was so realistically executed I inadvertently ducked my head as it ‘flies’ over the audience after rescuing troops from the American Embassy roof.
Her soul mate gone, Kim begins to unravel before our eyes. But this isn’t just one person’s tragedy, it’s a whole nation’s and the show respectfully doffs its cap to the real victims of this war. I defy anyone not to be moved by the footage of children who were orphaned or abandoned by the war after being born from mixed race relations.
Now a single mother, Kim hawks her wares in the vulgar, neon-lit clubs of Bangkok, which can’t outshine her glimmer of hope that Chris will return to save her.
Her pimp, the Engineer, played with endearing malevolence by Jon Jon Briones, is still looming large in her life. He too dreams of a new life, but this time chasing the American dollar.
Track, The American Dream, is a sexually-charged, dazzling celebration of lavish consumerism, which highlights the irony of his particular ambitions in life.
But it is Kim’s folly which tugs at you most, and has you wanting to run on the stage and give her a hug.
As the show simmers towards its crushing climax I couldn’t help but dab my eyes – and I’m certainly not a cryer.
If you like your musicals all jazz hands, saccharine scripts and uplifting denouncements, this isn’t for you.
But if powerful passion, superb singing and food for thought is your thing, book now. Just make sure you take your tissues.
•Miss Saigon is at Prince Edward Theatre, London and is booking until December 19. No booking fees – book early and save at www.miss-saigon.com/boxoffice or 0844 482 5155.