Bold and brilliant, The Bodyguard at Leeds Grand Theatre stars X Factor winner Alexandra Burke as superstar Rachel Marron, who falls in love with the bodyguard hired to protect her from a sinister stalker. Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay has been met with critical acclaim, and its energetic blend of uplifting songs alongside a familiar storyline is currently making it a hit with the British public.
Marron is after an academy award, and all looks promising for her until a mysterious stalker enters the picture, and bodyguard Frank Farmer (Stuart Reid) is brought in to protect the superstar at all costs. Alongside this runs the love story between Marron and Farmer, which soon eclipses the rest of the action. Hilarious at times, tragic at others, Kasdan supplies a simple, yet heart-rending framework. Unsurprisingly, the musical numbers are outstanding, and Burke does not disappoint, adding her own touches to Whitney Houston’s award-winning songs, her heartfelt performances never failing to leave the audience in awe.
Alongside Burke, The Bodyguard stars some exceptional talent. Rachel John, who played Marron’s sister, stole every scene she was in, her classically influenced vocal style providing a refreshing contrast to Burke’s own. Jaden Oshenye also gave a notable performance as Marron’s young son, Fletcher, and hearts were captured in a collective ‘aww’ as the child star took up the microphone during the finale. The cast were a real asset, and the gaps only really showed during the tragic scenes, in which some actors struggled to convince. When Marron’s sister is stabbed to death, for instance, we could see a robotic Burke malfunction as she struggled to pick a fitting emotion. In the end she opted for ‘sad’, which, all things considered, was a wise choice. These instances may have left the audience disappointed, but ultimately they did not detract from the otherwise flawless performances.
Acclaimed director Thea Sharrock’s talent for stagecraft shone throughout, as she made particularly effective use of shutters to capture certain scenes, elegantly isolating specific elements inside frames of neon. The audience clearly appreciated many of these effects, the spectator next to me audibly gasping with joy as Burke rose into the air on an extravagant podium for “I Will Always Love You”. Whilst stagecraft was employed tastefully for the most part, there were some odd choices. My retinas, for instance, are still bleeding from the introductory pyrotechnics and one of the actors shining a laser pointer with slow deliberation into each of my eyeballs. Nevertheless, the show interacted well with the audience, creating an excitingly immersive spectacle and, retinas aside, the production really was awesome to behold.
The Bodyguard has absolutely no pretensions. It’s a splashy showpiece of Whitney Houston’s back catalogue and never claims to be more, and to this end it was an undeniable success. But should it have been more? When art enters the mainstream, it takes on social responsibility. As viewers of art we not only appreciate it but reproduce it in our day-to-day lives. If a mainstream film perpetuates sexism, its viewers will do the same, if a mainstream novel perpetuates racism, its readers will do the same. The Bodyguard is not a sexist or a racist production, but sadly it reinforces certain stereotypes all too readily. Women are depicted as dependent upon men for success – after just one night with the hunky bodyguard, Burke’s work is said to improve dramatically. Not to mention the fact that she falls for the guy in the space of five seconds. Meanwhile, men were reduced to elusive sets of abs, flexing in the darkness. With a production cost of five million pounds, you’d think they’d be able to afford a few extra shirts. The audience didn’t seem to mind though. “You’re such a guy!” Burke exclaims as a man mentions fishing. These stereotypes are easily avoidable, and whilst it is true that The Bodyguard never tried to avoid them, maybe it should have done so.
However, any criticism seems powerless to deny the evidence of The Bodyguard’s success. It was clear from the start that the audience knew exactly what they wanted, and they received just that. And as we rose to join the ten-minute standing ovation, it was clear that this audacious, unapologetic, and annoyingly enjoyable musical had been a tangible success. If you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity, go and see The Bodyguard, you won’t regret it.
Image courtesy of Paul Coltas