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Next Thing You Know
Etcetera Theatre
15th May 2017

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for Next Thing You Know

Photography provided by Starbuck Theatre Company

I sit here at 5.30 in the morning, preparing for the day job, trying to remember when and how I became a real adult. To all intents and purposes it just happened around me and it's still in progress now, with old friends getting married, having children and moving out to the suburbs. Such is the premise of Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham's Next Thing You Know, which brings us Waverly (Sarah Pavlovs), Lisa (Dru Stephenson), Luke (Alex McDonald-Smith) and Darren (Jack Scott-Walker), four young New Yorkers who struggle with the transition from carefree twenties to commitment-heavy, professional thirties. The concept crosses the pond easily, with nothing lost in translation for a young and similarly-disposed London audience.

Vocal talent in this production by Starbuck Theatre Company varies, though always supported dependably by Chris Corcoran on piano. Of the four performers, Pavlovs is the most effortless and solid vocalist, albeit one with a soothingly generic style. Stephenson takes the accolade for most striking voice, possessing as she does a certain power that singles her out, not to mention fits her character. Scott-Walker seemed overly restrained until roughly halfway in, but once in his stride the multi-genre singer that he is shone through. The combination is quite powerful, with the harmonies in both Hungover and a reprise of Next Thing You Know particularly effective.

All four actors take a while to truly settle into their roles - perhaps the biggest peril of one-nighters. Stephenson comes through as a highly convincing Lisa, bringing to the role a warm authority that disarms and draws in. McDonald-Smith channels a loveable and credible if cocky New Yorker in Luke, which somehow covers for the fact that his vocals are the most limited of the cast. Curiously it fits the role nicely - if any one of the protagonists were to be lacking in skill but confidently power through with the sheer force of their personality, it would indeed be him. A special mention must also go to Morning After Omelet, in which McDonald-Smith really brings to life the arrogance of a self-appointed casanova. While Pavlovs is clearly capable and well-prepared, she doesn't quite sparkle in the same way. Scott-Walker is convincing and relatable from the start as the all-too-human Darren.

Pared back to a simple affair that fits well into the small black box of the Etcetera, there are a few noteworthy scenes in which an endearing atmosphere is created. Two in particular stand out: the first is the office scene, where Darren and Luke are negotiating the former's relationship problems via text-to-speech software - an effective idea, and something that two naïve men might just do when tackling a difficult topic (if perhaps a slight exaggeration). Though it must be cautioned that the audience struggles if any of the playback isn't clear and the sound design needs to be tightened. The other is up at the bar, with Lisa and Darren enjoying a regret-fuelled drinking game - here is where the audience really sees two friends letting off steam.

Pavlovs' stage direction is sound throughout, with smooth transitions and good use of the limited space and minimal props. However, the whole production is marred by irrational lighting decisions; indeed, the whole premise of the method seems to be "let's use everything with abandon, regardless of the setting." The worst offender is the office scene, in which Darren and Luke sit in a dimly-lit room with a neon bar sign on the far right-hand side. Simple steps could be taken to make this a more believable office, such as brightening the surroundings and, er, turning off the bar sign. Distracting, but easy to remedy in a future run.

Next Thing You Know is built on solid foundations. With continued character development, equalising the talent across the board and taming that rogue lighting, it could and should return as something much more polished.

Next Thing You Know ran on 15th May 2017 at the Etcetera Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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