20 September 2016
Well-executed if not a little rough around the edges, this take on the quirky self-referential [Title of Show] from SR productions is entertaining enough to provide a fun night of musical theatre on the West End’s fringe, but lacks the quality and daring direction needed to make it a complete success.
As the name suggests, this mid-noughties work isn’t your standard generic musical: its plot consists in documenting the writing of the show we are seeing taking place. With an intriguing premise, it is filled with tongue in cheek references, fourth wall breaks, nods to other musicals and multiple humorous show tunes. Bowen and Bell’s book and score are cleverly written and while some moments feel self-congratulatory, there are laughs throughout as well as parts touching and relatable.
When first performed, the original cast were literally playing themselves, which added a personal element that is a challenge for any revival. However, Louie Westwood and Daniel Mack Shand as Hunter and Jeff are instantly likeable as the struggling writers, oozing great chemistry and consistently delivering well-timed gags. Westwood’s Hunter is loud, camp and extroverted, though he manages not to overplay it or fall into caricature; instead, he portrays the writer as a fun-loving, real person with passion for his art and he makes sure no comical line is lost. Shand’s Jeff is more reserved and provides a contrasting calm to Hunter. His character’s reluctance to dream of success generates more of the touching moments in the show, but that’s not to say he isn’t able to crack a number of good jokes as well.
The production is at its best when Westwood and Shand quip with each other, playing out the professional and personal relationship of their characters. Chloe Hawkins and Malindi Freeman sadly fail to match their co-actors performances, playing the writer’s two friends who are brought on board to perform in and help create [Title of Show]. Both actors struggle to come to grips with their characters and their performances feel forced at times. Admittedly, this does seem to be, in part at least, down to the script with Freeman’s Susan in particular having a number of odd lines that don’t land particularly well. Though she gives a bold performance of the hilarious ‘Die Vampire Die’, there are problems with both her characterisation and delivery during the musical. Hawkins’ Heidi is a less problematic character, and while her two solo numbers are performed well, she is slightly overshadowed by her male counterparts.
While there is nothing explicitly wrong with Will Keith’s direction, everything feels somewhat safe, with the actors seeming to go through the motions of the script at times. The choreography is a tad simple, and while it is not without some interesting sections, occasionally the stage looks cluttered despite there only being a cast of four. There is also a lack of slickness in the execution that could be ironed out with further rehearsal. A few more unique ideas littered through the show may furthermore be nice.
In the most part the actors’ voices blend well, providing good harmonies to accompany the humorous lyrics. Occasionally, their dynamics in particular are sporadic and a little polishing of the songs would work to allow the clearly talented cast to really show off their voices. Vocal ability is not the main priority of this musical, but when some songs are performed so impressively (especially ‘Nine People’s Favourite Thing’), it is disappointing that other sections feel more amateur.
Despite its faults, this production is a still a success and, though it clearly has its problems, they are not significant enough to mean this isn’t an enjoyable romp. The disappointment is more in the fact that it could and should be a lot better, and more daring direction or tightening of scenes/songs would go a long way in making this a much more accomplished and professional piece of work.