The Off Key
White Bear Theatre
Reviewed – 6th October 2020
“Glynn-Whitehead’s pure vocals are a fine counterpoint to Mackie’s Dylanesque rasp”
We are in a small music venue, in a nondescript location somewhere in the UK. It has the feel of an open-mic club as two characters sit onstage waiting for the audience to find their seats. Eventually, and tentatively, they introduce themselves as Sam and Liv. Initially apologetic, they quickly get into their stride, pouring their hearts out to us through song. Between the numbers we are taken backstage, or back to their bedsit, where we watch them pour their hearts out to each other.
It is difficult to classify “The Off Key”. It is not a music gig, nor is it a play with music. But it is definitely dramatic in its unrestricted language and insight into the construction of each song. Writer and director Scott Mackie (who also plays Sam) cannot be accused of sidestepping. The subject matter isn’t likely to knock you down, however, as it charts the somewhat familiar territory of a love won and lost affair; but the humour and honesty that Mackie brings to the narrative are its driving force.
Set during lockdown, Sam and Liv are both songwriters struggling to make ends meet. They met at one of Sam’s music gigs (presumably before lockdown) where Liv (Molly Glynn-Whitehead) was in the audience. In time honoured, troubadour style he woos her with a song: “I Like You, Break Up with Your Boyfriend for Me”. Overcoming the initial embarrassment at being singled out, Liv does what she is asked, and the new couple soon discover the truth behind many famous song lyrics – most notably U2’s “With or Without You” springs to mind. Their love affair is quite a whirlwind and they reach the argument stage in breakneck speed. Which is where the momentum starts to idle. The dialogue remains just as caustic, Mackie’s style reminiscent of Patrick Marber or Nick Hornby, but the issues are too commonplace and superficial for the evident chemistry between the actors to react explosively.
Glynn-Whitehead’s pure vocals are a fine counterpoint to Mackie’s Dylanesque rasp, and while their stage personas repeatedly fail to get it together, the two singers are effortlessly in harmony. Glynn-Whitehead’s solos are a high point. She doesn’t always appear sure of her character, but she sings with an emotional confidence and depth that touches the heart.
The title has a double meaning. At one point Sam gives a eulogy at his mother’s funeral. “She couldn’t hold a tune to save her life… but that’s not what killed her”. The comedy sits perfectly comfortably with the pathos; just as the two performers are in tune with each other. There is nothing off key about this production. The name also alludes to the ‘off key’ – the ability to switch off. Sam and Liv are constantly desiring to switch off their feelings for one another. “The Off Key” resonates with familiarity while the tunes reverberate long into the night. At ninety minutes, though, it overstretches itself. Pressing the ‘off key’ slightly earlier would add more punch to this hard hitting yet light hearted modern love story.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
The Off Key
White Bear Theatre until 10th October
Previously reviewed at this venue: