views from the gods

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Vote for Me
The London Theatre Workshop
8th May 2015

★★★★☆

The ensemble of Vote for Me

Photography provided by The London Theatre Workshop

When I collected my ticket for Vote for Me: A Musical Debate, I was handed paperwork to vote for either the reds or the blues. Even though this musical - as with all of the London Theatre Workshop's productions - is set in the US, it brought back memories of the recent General Election, given a limiting choice of two main players. For me, choosing to create theatre based on life across the Pond has sometimes made it harder to establish a connection, but the company have this time achieved a much better harmony between their artistic vision and local tastes. It's very American and yet so very relatable, no matter where you live or vote.

Standing for the American Conservative Party is Janet Tilghman (Jennie Jacobs): impeccably dressed in a powder blue power suit, with a loving husband, Roger Tilghman (Arvid Larsen) hovering in the wings, ready to become "the first First Lady who pees standing up". Janet is passionate, if incredibly highly strung, and is out to smash that glass ceiling whilst setting up a theme park in the Middle East. (No, really.) It's an unusual idea, but at the other end of the spectrum, Buddy Rounsaville (Hans Rye) from the Republicans has few thoughts of his own. His wife, Amy Rounsaville (Jennie Jacobs) is desperate to get into the White House, making for a far more enthusiastic potential First Lady than Roger. Both presidential candidates have their own trusted advisor (Joe Leather) and having the same actor support both Janet and Buddy is a nice touch, as it underlines that no matter the party, there's the same amount of fakery and spin.

There are plenty of little digs and jokes in the wonderfully funny music and lyrics penned by Drew Fornarola and Scott Elmegreen. Before the debate really kicks off, Buddy pipes up with a backing harmony of "not ready yet, so not ready yet" and when Roger tries to reconcile his feelings towards his wife's campaign, Amy glances at the already emasculated character and sings "pretty pretty lady". Simple jibes, but the way in which they're delivered make us roar with laughter. Throughout this frankly hilarious 90-minute romp, the line between daydreaming and reality is repeatedly crossed. Director Dom O'Hanlon ensures that the transitioning between the many ridiculous scenes is smooth, with spot on timing and simple but effective choreography.

All 15 musical numbers have us laughing hard, but The Global Warming Song in particular is an absolute triumph - comedy gold. Buddy is presented to us as nothing if not a simple man, and when he sings "there's no global warming on Fox" and "I really like to watch Fox", it emphasises just how little he's interested in - or perhaps even capable of - getting to grips with the big issues. Buddy is a mere front rather than a born leader. It's always his wife pushing him towards the White House, whereas he wants to stay at home, drink and change the channel whenever the tellybox gets too depressing. Not exactly the sort of man you want to govern a country, but not a bad one either - he's naive rather than malicious. As Buddy finally gets a question he can answer, he gleefully sings "I know it, I know it, I so freaking know it" and misses his opportunity to prove it. He's a little boy in a suit.

We do get to see some more depth to the main characters when exploring the impact of their careers on their family lives, but they're not fully fleshed out and it's the humour in Vote for Me which makes it such a success. Neither party is made out to be "right" one, allowing theatregoers of all political persuasions to relax and enjoy the comedy. The sheer stupidity and squabbling is held in check by debate moderator Robyn Fiedler (Lucy Grainger) who complains in Robyn's Lament that "I'd be a much better president than these two nincompoops", making herself the voice of the everyman. Robyn's clear frustration, open sarcasm and her ability to list so many countries in rapid succession endear her to the audience.

Given it's a musical, it's probably worth pointing out that musical director Chris Guard does a fabulous job with the orchestrations and the performers. Jacobs, Grainger and Rye probably have the edge when it comes to the vocals, but all put in an energetic and tuneful performance, holding their own against the keys without any microphones. I've been disappointed by singers fighting against the accompaniment in this venue before, but this time, the balance is just so.

In London, UK, there are a lot of angry people right now, and there are lots of important issues being debated in the media. There is of course another more serious side to politics. I'm not suggesting that you should change the channel like Buddy and ignore what's going on, but if you want to park your troubles for an hour and a half, Vote for Me is current, relatable and undeniably a whole lot of fun.

Vote for Me ran from 5th to 23rd May 2015 at The London Theatre Workshop.

Nearest tube station: Fulham Broadway (District)



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