Last night I made a return to London’s Adelphi theatre for the first time since my two trips to see Sweeney Todd last year, to add The Bodyguard to my list of shows I’ve seen, and I made a conscious decision not to watch the film so as just to enjoy this production with completely fresh eyes and ears. Of course, I knew a lot of the music used, but only vaguely knew the story so I was intrigued to see how what knowledge I did have of it would translate onto the stage, and what transpired was of the most incredible evenings of theatre I’ve ever had.
Beverley Knight currently leads the cast as Rachel Marron, and from the minute she entered I was utterly smitten by her. I am a fan of her music and voice anyway so knew I was in for a special evening, but I had no idea of the extent to which she would move me – just to give you an idea, I was crying on three separate occasions and when the first half ended with one of my personal favourites, I spent the first few moments of the interval speechless beyond repeating ‘oh my god’ a couple times because I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. For a first timer on a West End Stage, I was struck by her confidence and ability to make me truly believe everything she said and did; her Rachel is incredibly sassy, witty, and fiery which I loved to watch Beverley play, but she also played the vulnerable side with great sincerity and not for a moment did I lose my emotional connection with her. If I had to pick some personal highlights they would be: Queen of The Night, All The Man That I Need, I Have Nothing, I’m Every Woman and of course I Will Always Love You. What I loved about Beverley was that she didn’t try to be Whitney Houston. Of course, Whitney is musical royalty and people are going to be familiar with her songs when they see this, but Beverley is able to put her own stamp on the music while still allowing the audience to celebrate the legacy of these amazing songs and Whitney herself; particularly during All The Man That I Need and I Will Always Love You, the audience were cheering madly whilst she was still singing, so that was a testament to how wonderful she was – I had ridiculously intense goosebumps throughout the entire show when she sang, and whooped myself hoarse on numerous occasions.
Tristan Gemmill plays Frank Farmer, the namesake of the show, Rachel’s Bodyguard. In a couple of interviews I’ve seen, he jokes about how odd it is to be in a West End show as the leading man and not have to sing properly, but I can tell you I loved every minute of his performance. As per his job description, Frank spends the majority of the show watching Rachel, and as such for me this is a fascinating role for a male lead; you have to be able to tell the story through your eyes and body language more than anything, and Tristan did a great job with this. As mentioned earlier, one of my favourite scenes was when Rachel sings I Have Nothing. The pair are at a karaoke night and Frank sits back, watching her. You could tell that this scene would act as the turning point in their relationship, just by the way Tristan’s expression would change subtly, it was really endearing watching Frank fall slowly more in love with her as the song goes on. For me, Tristan and Beverley had wonderful chemistry and the pair were a joy to watch both in the intense drama and warmer moments. Also, kudos to Tristan where he does sing (Frank gets up under duress and does a little homage to I Will Always Love You), in context it’s meant to be really akward and amusing, which is how Tristan plays it, but I got the feeling he may be a slightly better singer than all the TV interviews led me to believe 😉 It was just brilliant to see him live on stage after being a fan of his television work for so long, and to be in the same room watching Beverley sing!
There where also some lovely interactions between Frank and Rachel’s son Fletcher (here played by Elliot Aubrey), my favourite of which was when Fletcher asks Frank what he’s scared of, and Frank replies: ‘I’m scared of not being here when you need me’.
This musical was also the first, and I hope not the last chance I’ve had to see Debbie Kurup. I loved her voice and particularly enjoyed Saving All My Love For You. Her portrayal of Rachel’s sister Nicki was one that had great tenacity and fire to it, and I really felt for her during her darker, bitter moments.
The way she and Beverley played off one another was fascinating- they really captured the complexity of the relationship that the two sisters share, and Nicki’s final scene saw me shed yet another few tears!
Special mention also to Michael Rouse, who plays Rachel’s Stalker- a perfect example of an undeniably creepy character that it’s completely impossible to not be drawn to, however uncomfortable his presence makes you feel. One of my favourite scenes was when Frank has to rescue Rachel from him at the club- it’s really cleverly staged. Rachel is mid way through singing So Emotional and amid all the smoke and dancers and such, for a few seconds every line or so the music stops scene goes into slow motion and the audience see him edging closer and closer to her, before Frank leaps into action and stands at the top of the podium cradling Rachel in his arms. I thought it was a really clever touch giving the stalker his own musical number too, a kind of duet with Rachel as he caresses one of her costumes.
Staging wise, I also really loved All The Man That I Need– the action starts with Rachel singing over Frank while he sleeps, and slowly transitions into a recording studio, and I Will Always Love You, which starts with Rachel singing off stage. Unlike my previous trips to the theatre, I wasn’t given cause to hate the Dress Circle overhang as this was staged in such a way that, even at the very back with my wheelchair I could still enjoy all the action whatever height it was, though I would like to thank the usher who let me move to the aisle so I could see and enjoy the finale when all the crowd stood up!
I came out of the show singing and still have been today- I can’t wait to go back 😀