Muted***+ (The Bunker)

Posted: December 10, 2016 in Theatre

mutedThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

Lovers of musicals should have no trouble finding the Bunker, as it is right next to the Menier Chocolate Factory and they may well consider it worth their while heading there to catch this brand new show, similar in style to Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers.

Michael had been the lead singer in a rock band until the trauma of his mother’s death in a road accident left him mute. In his absence, his girlfriend Lauren has paired up with fellow band member Jake, but, when Michael returns, she becomes pressured to help him to speak again, both by Jake, who wants to re-form the band and by Michael’s young uncle/guardian Will, who wants to get on with his own life. An illuminated triangle dominates the back of the stage, Sarah Henley’s book telling of triangular relationships and struggles to break free from the shackles of the past.

Co-songwriter Tori Allen-Martin impresses as Lauren, tormented by her torn allegiances and a guilty secret and Jos Slovick makes Jake a forlorn figure when he realises the consequences of the mission upon which he has sent his lover. Mark Hawkins brings out the frustration of Will and, in flashback sequences, Helen Hobson’s Amanda, the mother, is at first almost angelic but is later exposed as over-possessive and emotionally fragile.

David Leopold’s damaged Michael contrasts beautifully with Edd Campbell Bird’s portrayal of his younger self, brimming over with teenage optimism and ambition. The centrepiece of Sarah Beaton’s memorable set design, which reflects psychological undertones in the story, is an island surrounded by a moat in which both Michaels paddle tentatively. A garden swing hangs from above, as childhood memories intrude upon current dilemmas and the silent, isolated Michael reaches out and searches for his voice.

The show starts slowly and the pacing of the first half is uneven, but, as tension builds, book and songs combine to give brooding intensity to the drama until an unsatisfactory conclusion, which suggests that Henley’s plotting could have taken a wrong turn or two. Jamie Jackson’s inventive direction uses the confined space to striking effect and, although there is no room for dancing, choreographed movement gives visual form to emotions contained in the songs and creates vivid images.

Music and lyrics in the soft rock style by Tim Prottey-Jones and Allen-Martin, accompanied by a band consisting of guitar, bass and drums, generally work well, but the team falls short of delivering the knockout song that could have defined the show and more work is needed to integrate the songs with the book. The lyrics express characters’ inner feelings, but they rarely advance the story and, too often, pivotal dramatic scenes are spoken when they need to be acted out in song.

Although still some way short of realising its full potential, Muted speaks loudly for emerging talent in British musical theatre.

Performance date: 9 December 2016

Photo: Savannah Photographic

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