saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
5th August 2014
Photography supplied by the Tabard Theatre
Who says youth is wasted on the young? That certainly doesn't seem to be the case in this upbeat, feelgood musical from the States, as four people ask those difficult coming-of-age questions.
But fear not, while the American influence is present throughout, the piece doesn't rely on Americanisms, but rather on the universal idea of the seemingly directionless path that stretches out at the feet of every young person. Having never been old myself, I can only imagine that everyone who has passed through their teens and twenties will be able to relate to the theme of making important decisions despite having barely started gaining life experience. The writers (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, themselves not far off 30) have done this not through a narrative, but through the much less structured song-cycle approach against an elegant and literal blue-sky thinking backdrop of a day at the beach.
Luke Street starts us off with his boyish tenor, full of joie de vivre and fun. This character's casual confidence cleverly sets the scene for the rest of the show as a study on post-adolescent life. We hear details that he thinks defines himself, but which really paint the picture of someone who has yet to pin down who he really is. This deliberately juvenile self-description continues with Christina Modestou, a slightly older but equally fatuous soprano, whose vibrancy on stage is well-delivered. Thomas Heston, also tenor, is dripping with cheekily puerile bravado as the popular jock, whose facade of over-confidence barely hides his insecurities and dispensability. Finally the sexy, outgoing Rebecca Jayne-Davies completes the group of subjects of the examination into early relationships, how we approach them, how they can hurt us, and how we can grow from them.
Throughout the musical, we see these carefully generic characters describe the myriad ways they have, despite beginning with optimism, gone through pain and hardships to emerge bearing the scars of life experience. We explore, through song, people who cannot commit to saying "I love you" (I Hmm You), people who try to change themselves to fit their dream match (Perfect) and those who have someone very attractive but simply cannot force that feeling into something meaningful (Lying There). These numbers are lyrically rich, lovingly coating the music and holding the audience captive, although at times lingering slightly too long on simple feelings of estrangement.
Moving along the song-cycle, we also encounter happier numbers which are very important for keeping the mood light enough for the tragedy and pain to hit home. These range from the girl who doesn't realise that her perfect man is gay (Man of My Dreams), the boys reminiscing about their love-lost mate who now spends all his time with his girlfriend (Pretty Good Day) and the jilted lover who now wishes her ex were dead (In Short). The comedy in these numbers is perhaps slightly predictable, but nonetheless great fun. None of these hold a candle to Be My Friend a song all about "The Facebook" (highlighting the show's considerable age here), which cuttingly captures the cult's clasp on humanity.
As we would expect, the show starts to illustrate that the only way to cope with the pain we inevitably all feel from such hardships is to learn, heal, and recognise that you can still learn to love and grow (Ready to be Loved and Like Breathing).
Director Adam Philpott has done well to take this piece and hone the actors into their highly developed personae, with all the intricacies of close friends. The musical director, Edward Court, has clearly well-spent a great deal of time perfecting the harmonies and dynamics across the cast and, apart from an early problem with levels which was very quickly fixed, the voices work together through some complex vocal manoeuvres - especially the finale. The simple piano score does its job and the lack of percussion passes unnoticed as enough of the songs are centred on a rubato style. There were problems with the lighting during our performance, this was a malfunction rather than poor direction, and at times the flickering even added to the theme of confusion. But on the whole, it worked.
With all of the characters staying on the beach, hanging out, being themselves, and generally loving life whilst exploring this complex, uncertainty about their various emotions, it's obviously a breezy piece. And as they all eventually resolve their issues into enjoying the great possibilities of existence (spoiler alert) it's also fairly jaunty. While the synopsis doesn't seem particularly deep, the emotion from the actors, Jayne-Davies in particular, is sufficiently profound to provoke some very strong feelings of empathy. Because the writers have tried to cover as wide a range of relationship crises as possible in an hour there are, of course, some which are not directly relatable are still interesting to experience.
If you have ever struggled with how you feel about someone, you will find a story in here to soothe your soul - and you will have a great time along the way. Don't hang about, you won't be young enough to learn these lessons forever.
Edges ran from 30th July to 30th August 2014 at the Tabard Theatre.
Nearest tube station: Turnham Green (District, Piccadilly)