GALA @ The Arcola Theatre (Grimeborn Festival 2015) Review

For an onlooker to observe a piece of art and to recognise the artist at the blink of an eye is testament to that artists contribution to their field. The Persistance of Memory is notably, if not Salvador Dali‘s most famous work, a portrait depicting a number of melting clocks in a barren landscape renders a series of question marks. The man behind the portrait is celebrated for his contribution to the surrealist movement, however many may not be as aware about his wife and muse, Gala Dali.

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Ergo Phizmiz coaxes Gala out of the shadows and places her in the spotlight in this eponymously named production. Gala witnesses the non-exclusive relationship between Gala and Salvador Dali, who finds himself wheelchair bound due to old age. A practitioner of Candaulism, he gains pleasure from his wife’s extra-marital activity. Gala attempts to depict their unconventional relationship, however the production only brushes the surface. With a running time of 40 minutes, the duration is a contributing factor.
The extra-marital affair given centre stage, is Gala’s liaison with actor and musician Jeff Fenholt who happens to be starring in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ in none other than the lead role. Cue the opportunity for automatic comedy, as Jeff adopts the religious nickname, however the comedy value doesn’t truly take full effect.
A black and white photo of Jeff adorns upstage, there’s a real sense of 70s super model glamour that circulates the space, Gala sings to him, pines for him, turns to him, as if the image were a shrine to a mystical being. A sense of mystique builds. Dressed in a frilled cowboy jacket and jeans, Jeff makes his entrance, arms wide open with a care free attitude. This mystique quickly fades, his character presented as a maverick and a supposed symbol of danger, is never truly achieved. What is left is an outline of Jeff, and both Dali and Gala, caricatures presented rather than the potential to gain a true insight of each character.
There is a speck of the manic about this production and this is epitomised in Gala’s shouting and screeches. Phizmiz’s score allows for Gala to highlight the quirkiness of the world she finds herself living in. The piece however feels disjointed, this could be seen as a means to accompany the unconventional relationship presented to us, however I’m not convinced. A snapshot I’m left with as I leave the space is of an ensemble singing about the unfortunate end of a rabbit. Presented in a jovial and witty manner, the cast play into the ostentatious, unapologetic temperament of the production.
This tragicomedy needs refining, there’s a hint of carry on as Gala and Jeff engage in their affair and Dali wanders in his own thoughts, however falls flat on the tragedy. The piece is unbalanced, however I commend its quirkiness and aspiration to challenge the operatic genre. 3/5

Review written by Lucy Basaba

Gala was shown at the Arcola Theatre on Sunday 16th August as part of this year’s Grimeborn Festival. For more information on the festival, visit here…

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