Little by Little
Reviewed – 26th September 2018
“for the most part there is little variation, and too many songs share the same tempo and level”
Everything is little about “Little by Little” – the new musical about mates and dates. The cast is little – there are three. The orchestra is little – there is one piano. Unfortunately, the story is little too. In the format of a musical revue it charts the long-term friendships of two women and a man over time. There are echoes to the initial stages of Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man: we see the whining schoolboy and the lovers’ ‘woeful ballads’, but we don’t get much further than that.
Inevitably a love triangle develops but the turns are predictable. The characters, named just ‘Man’, ‘Woman 1’ and ‘Woman 2’ begin as schoolfriends, playing innocent games that echo the future, more complicated emotional games of their adult selves. Sung from start to finish with no dialogue this is quite a challenge for the three actors, who remain onstage throughout. The songs are vocally demanding, and in the small space of the Etcetera Theatre with just piano accompaniment, it often shows in the strained harmonies.
But the ambition and the energy of the cast is uplifting. Guido Garcia, as ‘Man’ and Susannah Gidley and Charlotte Shaw as ‘Woman 1’ and ‘Woman 2’ possess an engaging chemistry that allows the audience to forgive the saccharine obviousness of the storyline. They are aided by Ellen Greenfield’s and Hal Hackady’s often witty and observant lyrics: quickfire snapshots of life’s faux-pas and foibles. But these sparks fade fast into the duller backdrop of the score. There are moments, such as during a bluesy piano introduction, where we prick up our ears; but for the most part there is little variation, and too many songs share the same tempo and level.
It is evident that a lot of hard work has gone into this production and the singers clearly believe in it. But it is hard to know what sort of audience this musical is aiming for. There is an adolescent edge to the adult themes of fidelity, betrayal and commitment. The stakes are all too low, and the narrative courses along a very straight road indeed, with no change of mood or unexpected twists. As it stands it is a slow roll through a relentless song list, flattening the dynamics the cast are trying to build. Running at seventy-five minutes it feels longer. “This is your life” they sing in one of the closing numbers, “and there’s no second act”. It is a welcome reminder that this is a one act show.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Russo Rainaldi
Little by Little
Etcetera Theatre until 30th September
Previously reviewed at this venue: