Archive for July, 2019

Games for Lovers (The Vaults)

Posted: July 19, 2019 in Theatre

Writer: Ryan Craig       Director: Anthony Banks

⭐️⭐️💫

Poking fun at the mating rituals of the British is an age old pursuit, picked up on by Ryan Craig in this new comedy, which, if nothing else, demonstrates that very little changes over the years. The play devotes itself more to re-working familiar situations than to finding modern perspectives and, coming from a writer who has an impressive record of recent successes, it proves to be a disappointment.

Designer Simon Scullion decorates the traverse stage with geometric shapes in garish colours, giving Anthony Banks’ production a jazzy feel, but not altogether a modern one. We enter a world where twenty somethings make passing references to Tinder and the like, but where snappy chat-up lines at the bar are a great deal more prevalent than anything on Snapchat. Could this be this be 2019 or, perhaps, 1979?

The self-proclaimed master of chat-up techniques is inept Lothario, Darren (aka “Juan”), played with a jaunty swagger by Billy Postlethwaite. He is a dating dinosaur, the sort of man who, 40 years ago, would have been wearing medallions on chains around his neck. Darren sublets a room in his flat to the timid Martha (Evanna Lynch), who is infatuated with a doctor at the hospital where she works. Only rating her a six-and-a-half, Darren takes her in, calculating that her presence in his home will prove less tempting to him than an eight or a nine.

Martha’s friend from school days is PE teacher Logan (Calum Callaghan), who also happens to be friends with Darren and a student of his in the art of chat-up. Logan’s new girlfriend, Jenny (Tessie Orange-Turner) is a website designer with a tendency to get too close to her clients. She is the most modern of the four characters. Her relationship with Logan is threatened by an unsatisfactory love life, which leads to role-playing in which she becomes a Belarusian whore.

At its best, Banks’ production has energy and a dash of wit and, at its worst, it has neither. There is a very slight narrative thread running through, but the show plays out like a series of independent, short comedy sketches of varying quality and what emerges is a quartet of thinly-drawn characters who are going through the motions of coupling for no better reason than it is what they believe they are supposed to do. Romance and emotional connections play virtually no part.

Predictable though it is, much of what goes on is mildly amusing, but the play’s overriding problem is that too little of what is has to say is new.

Performance date: 17 July 2019

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

Fiver (Southwark Playhouse)

Posted: July 7, 2019 in Theatre

Book, music and lyrics: Alex James Ellison and Tom Lees

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Little space at Southwark Playhouse is turning into fertile territory for new British musicals. Just a few weeks after The Curious Case of Benjamin Button emerged as, arguably, the fringe hit of 2019, here comes a refreshing offering from a young team that can already stake a credible claim to becoming the next Rice/Lloyd Webber.

A street busker sings Change Is Bringing Me Down and gets the eponymous note in his jar as a reward. The note is passed on to a homeless person who spends it at a newsagent on scratch cards, before it goes in change to a young man who has just bought a birthday card. The passing of the fiver around its many owners links together a cycle of humorous, romantic and melancholic songs.

The busker is co-writer (along with director and music director Tom Lees), Alex James Ellison, who reappears through the show with his acoustic guitar, like a wandering minstrel. Four highly talented actor/singers – Luke Bayer, Dan Buckley, Aoife Clesham and Hiba Elchikhe – play all the characters in the linked stories, showing remarkable versatility. A four-piece band accompanies the songs.

There are times when the fiver gets forgotten, but, being of the modern plastic variety, it proves durable. The show also takes a long detour with what amounts to a songless revue sketch about a surprise party. What emerges overall is that the real linking theme is about the problems of young people making the transition from childhood to adulthood more than about any form of money. Love, loss, depression, exams, bullying, stalking, the generation gap and becoming parents all feature in a show that often feels like part of a cathartic process to counter the pain of adolescence.

If musicals stand or fall on the quality of their songs, this one definitely stands. Encompassing a variety of musical styles, intelligent lyrics combine with catchy rhythms and lovely melodies throughout the show. The writers’ work, switching effortlessly from light to shade, shows no traces of the kind of bland and predictable pop that has dragged down so many British musicals over the years.

The title invites a five-star review and it is tempting, but the show needs further work to knit all its elements together more tightly. That said, at this stage, lack of polish matters less than freshness and conviction. When creators and performers seem to believe in their material as much as this, audiences have to believe in it too.

Performance date: 5 July 2019

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