Maya

Rick Williams
A Stage Kindly
Barons Court Theatre
(2011)

Maya publicity graphic

Maya is a musical being performed for the first time in London, an offering from across the Atlantic. Set in the last days of the Mayans, the musical score helps lift the action out of the clichéd and occasionally cringe-worthy dialogue. The music is one of the few positive notes in this mixed bag.

Williams, the writer, has apparently had a lifelong interest in all things Mayan, although the only perceptible proof of this is in occasional references to 'the Gods' and character names like Lol-Be. The setting is sufficiently 'foreign' to the pub upstairs, which is audible in quieter emotional scenes. The stage is strewn with sand and plastic jungle decorations. Apart from these tokens, the singing, staging, meaningful gazing and comedic camp side characters are all very much more reminiscent of an all-American musical. In such a small space, it can be difficult to represent the epic scale of the story being told. This is not well achieved as the story revolves around two brothers set against each other at the end of an admired and fascinating civilization, which has been watered down by the creaky and one-dimensional plot and paper-thinly drawn characters.

However, the actors throw themselves into their roles with gusto. The singing was universally good with a few exceptionally fine voices occasionally showcased in pleasing harmonies, particularly Jessica Anne Ball and David O'Mahony, who played the romantic couple caught up in the changing times. Their thwarted love was much more interesting than the generalisations being made about politics. As Leika, Ms. Ball managed to create an empathy and a fierceness to her character, which would have been worth exploring further. O'Mahony worked hard to match her intensity as the love-sick hero, Alma. His voice was certainly pleasant and he has a charming leading man profile but he seemed nervous in the first few scenes although he grew more confident through the show and, when he focused on Ball, they had an engaging chemistry as well as the most catchy of the tunes.

Playing Leika's mother was Lisa Baird, who recently played the Kolo Kolo Bird in Just So, another fringe offering. One can't help drawing comparisons between the two new musicals, both struggling to be seen, set in a faraway land where mysticism is the order of the day. While the cast from both were proficient, the music well played (a keyboard is the only instrument in the Maya orchestra, played by Musical Director, Ross Leadbeater, who was excellent throughout) the direction capably handled, it was the raw material, the script, that falls woefully short in the case of Maya. The ending is perhaps, politically telling: Williams who lives in Florida has shown the end of the Mayans as the result of the leaders being shot to death by merciless Spanish piratical villains as the invasion begins.

Taylor Mills the director, has worked hard on the show and his effort shows through. The choreography is slick and in a thrust theatre, every seat has a good view of the action and the tender moments between the couple shine through and are complemented by the ensemble rousing numbers. The idea is novel and the music is refreshingly complex in the main, the costumes are bright and contribute to the story, Rick Williams is clearly very talented as a songwriter, but what makes this piece so frustrating is that all the efforts of all involved can't make up for the hammy dialogue between the tunes.

Playing until 30th January 2011

Reviewer: Lizzie Singh