Stuart King

Review: DEATH NOTE at Lyric Shaftesbury Avenue

Known to all Japanese manga fans, DEATH NOTE is a story by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata which involves a mythological Shinigami death god Ryuk (George Maguire), his discarded notebook and the adventures of the Tokyo student who stumbles upon it. Until Sunday you too can witness this extraordinarily individual production in the West End.

Dean John Wilson (L) and Christian Rey Marbella (Soichiro) in Death Note at the Lyric Theatre. Photo Mark SeniorDean John Wilson (L) and Christian Rey Marbella (Soichiro) in Death Note at the Lyric Theatre. Photo Mark Senior

Turned into a musical by Frank Wildhorn (he of the brilliant Jeckyll & Hyde and more recently the equally dazzling Bonnie & Clyde) with Jack Murphy’s lyrics (based on a book by Ivan Menchell), this iteration of the show is billed as semi-staged but the production values, set, costumes and all-round competence of the talented team behind the piece, results in a polished and exciting foray into this realm where Far Eastern mysticism collides with a bristling modernist realism.

Light (Joaquin Pedro Valdes) learns that by writing the name of an intended victim in the Death Note, the individual quickly dies. He soon succumbs to its power, unable to resist the idea of himself as a righteous vigilante. As if to prove the assertion to himself (and defy the beliefs of his police inspector father) instead of sniffing-out classroom bullies or cruel teachers, he embarks upon a spree of name scrawling, targeting known international criminals in a bid to free the world of evil. Soon the police declare the multitudinous acts of retribution equally illegal and begin an investigation to reveal the perpetrator. Enter the mysterious L (Dean John Wilson) as a publicity shy sleuth who unravels the knots and makes astute connections to identify the lad. Their stand-off — played out through the involvement of pop princess Misa (Jessica Lee) and another Shinigami death god Rem (Aimie Atkinson) creates the sort of finale which Light’s father Soichiro (Christian Rey Marbella) clearly fears.

The songwriters came up trumps in several places with some really juicy tunes and lyrics (notably The Way Things Are, Honor Bound, and When Love Comes) but the score is by no means perfect, suffering atleast a couple of duds. Unfortunately there is also a degree of over amplification in the space (perhaps a hangover from the need to fill an auditorium the size of the London Palladium) which encourages a slightly wearisome battle of the belters among the cast, but it’s nothing a good director and technical crew wouldn’t be able to get a handle on were the production to earn a West End run from these try-outs.

As is sometimes the case, the most compelling onstage performer Dean John Wilson (doing everything in his power to appear brilliant and on the spectrum as he delivers his sinister-yet-sexy pop vocals as though he were the celebrity inmate at a sanitarium), also succeeds in looking the most out of place amidst the cast… but you can’t help but wonder what trajectory this young performer’s career will take.