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saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Apartment 40C
St. James Theatre
6th April 2015

★★★★☆

Nova Skipp and Peter Gerald as Kathryn and Edward

Photography © Matthew Lees

As a nation, we're very attached to bricks and mortar. Upsize? Downsize? If we can meet the bills, no bloody way, we're staying put. Houses aren't just buildings to us, they're homes packed full of memories. And that's the same basic premise for Apartment 40C, a new musical by London Theatre Workshop's Ray Rackham and Tom Lees which, once again, is set on the other side of the Pond. When Katie (Alex Crossley) and Eddie (Alex James Ellison) accidentally end up living together (oh yes, it apparently happens), Apartment 40C becomes so intrinsically linked with their relationship. A slightly older Kate (Lizzie Wofford) and Ed (Johnjo Flynn) don't want to move out, and a present-day Kathryn (Nova Skipp) and Edward (Peter Gerald) wish they never had. It's the same pair at different stages in their relationship, a fractured time-wimey continuum splintering and repairing itself in front of us.

There's not a huge amount of plot but, strangely, we're never bored. The first half is predictable and absolutely nothing happens in the second that you don't see coming. Having explained the different dynamics between the three pairs, writer and writer Rackham starts to have more fun with them. Kathryn has far more snark when talking to Edward and it's this now established familiarity between them which really drives the humour. Kathryn makes fun of him because she can - after three decades on and off, she knows where the boundaries lie and how to push his buttons. Katie's ditziness, Eddie's optimism - they're so far removed, bridged by a slightly struggling Kate and Ed, who are at an important crossroads. We see how the couple change over time and how they don't, with some dialogue cleverly overlapping to underline the point. It's an extraordinarily well-crafted production which truly gets you at the end, where the characters interact with both ghosts of the past and glimpses of the future.

Lizzie Wofford and Johnjo Flynn as Kate and Ed

Photography provided by London Theatre Workshop

Rackham takes the six performers and propels them around the intimate set largely at the same time and does so with a smooth leadership. Both the St James Studio and the London Theatre Workshop's home turf in Fulham from where the show transferred aren't huge spaces, but the stage never feels cramped. Evie Holdcroft and Jonti Angel design a believably NYC stylised loft, with demarcated areas - a kitchen, living space, dining space - through which the protagonists can pass. Tom Kitney's lighting also helps separate out the different time streams - we're never confused as to who's doing what when because whilst our three sets of people are but two individuals and there's a clear progression in their behaviour and personalities which means we can't ever mix up their stories. You recognise mannerisms, even an evolution of wardrobe choices, but you see how time marches on.

Lees leads the orchestra on keys, with Florian Belboech on cello and Leon Keuuffer on violin. Pleasingly, the studio is big enough to contain the instruments, and with the singers all miked up (although it's damn near impossible to spot the wires in the ladies' hair), no one fights to be heard. Ensemble piece Forty Flights High in the Air is one powerful number and there's a hauntingly beautiful twinge of regret in Edward's Run Away and Kathryn's I Read. Each couple has a believable rapport and excellent vocals yet you will have a favourite and that will probably reveal more about you and where you are in your life rather than anything else. Instinctively, you can connect with at least one set - enthusiastic, turbulent or bitter. Maybe all three.

If asked to summarise the plot of Apartment 40C, it's quite uneventful, and ordinarily that's a worry in a musical. Here it makes the book feel more genuine. This isn't about turning back the clock, it's about accepting what's happened thus far and soldiering on. Much like real life, then. There are no incredible devices or fairytale endings, just two people who meet, who fall apart and who reflect on that journey. It's a shame that we don't feel the full poignancy of the piece until the very end, still it's a damn fine new musical and one which proves London Theatre Workshop are an exciting and fresh company. It does need highlighting that not only have they staged such a sharp production, they've come up with the book, the music and the lyrics in-house, which is a remarkable feat.

Apartment 40C ran from 6th to 12th April 2015 at St. James Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Victoria (Victoria, Circle, District)



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