Say My Name!
Reviewed – 16th October 2018
“largely makes up for its shortfalls in this area with a brand of irreverent comedy that’s deeply alluring”
It’s more or less unanimously agreed that Breaking Bad is one of the greatest TV series of all time, spanning 62 hours of nigh-on flawless storytelling, writing, and acting. So it’s an unenviable job to adapt that into a 90-minute musical comedy, but it’s one that Rob Gathercole (writer, composer and lyricist) has undertaken. Somewhat surprisingly, the Herculean task pays off overall.
Say My Name! follows the story of its source material; that of Walter White, a chemistry teacher who, upon being diagnosed with cancer, teams up with Jesse Pinkman to cook crystal meth and ultimately raise and lose a drug empire. However, if you haven’t already seen Breaking Bad, most of the plot will make little sense as it’s all skimmed over so quickly. Despite dedicating the entire opening song to exposition, it still comes across as muddy, and the show takes a little while to find its groove. As a result of this, Walter is introduced without any sort of understanding of what’s really motivating him, which does a disservice to the story and allows for very little payoff at the show’s end. Thankfully, Say My Name! largely makes up for its shortfalls in this area with a brand of irreverent comedy that’s deeply alluring.
Deftly sending up the characters and their exploits, the humour is gleefully inane and self-referential. Particular highlights include covering the entire third season in a single song, depicting a train robbery as a silent film, and Walter’s son being a cockney puppet – creative staging choices such as these generated immense laughter and allowed the show to jump out from the shadow of the source material. Most of the actors also managed to amplify the essence of their characters to near pantomimic levels to excellent effect, especially Scott Brooks as drug enforcement agent Hank and henchman Mike, and Rebecca Levy as Jesse and Hank’s wife Marie. However, certain characters such as the neurotic Lydia felt like they were overplayed and subsequently fell flat in their delivery.
The songs are also played by the cast and cover a huge range of styles and timbres, from rap to country to swing, and were all sung and performed marvellously. However, many of the songs felt underdeveloped, often being quite short and repetitious in their lyrics. Additionally, some motifs featured a cumbersome number of reprises that did not feel like they were adding any further layers to their meanings.
Consequently, Say My Name! often feels at odds with the show it’s trying to parody, buckling under the weight of the sheer amount of plot that it’s trying to condense. The opportunities for songs and scenes to explore characters and allow comic situations to play out more fully falls to the wayside in favour of continued exposition, but in the moments where the show leans into its more absurd humour, it manages to transcend being just a Breaking Bad parody into something much more addictive.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by Rob Gathercole
Say My Name!
Theatre N16 until 2nd November
Previously reviewed at Theatre N16: