The Distance You Have Come
Reviewed – 18th October 2018
“it was utterly impossible to not be moved by the all-consuming singing of Alexia Khadime”
Scott Alan’s new song cycle, The Distance You Have Come, at the Cockpit Theatre is an apologetically raw evening, of six actors, 26 songs and a lot of heartstrings pulled out. It was, at first, difficult to see what held the individual songs together (besides an obvious love of American musical theatre) but the powerful performances and commitment to unadulterated emotion got us there in the end.
The songs were stapled together by a, sometimes contrived, shared setting in a park and their theme of achievement of any type. Two men fell in love and became fathers. A young recovering alcoholic overcame the split with his partner. Two women left one another as one became a surrogate mother and the other stalked the park looking for men to sing songs with. The show was redemptive as characters moved from cynicism and despair to success and fulfilment, but ‘redemption’ was less the strong intellectual glue needed and more attractive wallpaper over the thematic gaps between songs.
The performances were almighty as individual efforts, leaving no meaningful gaze ungazed and no high note unhit. This young cast clearly has great futures ahead of them (and some already have great pasts behind them), with commitment, energy and vocal talent oozing out of each pore. Jodie Jacobs (Anna) stood out as a respite from the High School Musical style which is all pervasive in a musical theatre and it was utterly impossible to not be moved by the all-consuming singing of Alexia Khadime (Laura).
With these invincible performances, the show was occasionally let down by strange decisions and a few lazy choices, lyrically and on stage. Cliche was the name of the game as an ‘alcoholic’ sipped from a hip flask and was tormented by masked and hooded abstract figures. The set was a strange fusion of nature and bougie restaurant with a giant leaf on the floor, a tree above and bare filament light bulbs hanging from the rafters. Lyrically this show pushed the boundaries of where normal musical theatre cheese meets lazy cliche with lines like ‘A home is where the heart is meant to be and you’ll always have a home inside of me’ feeling empty and tired. It was a shame to see small issues not dealt with (it wasn’t the first night) with actors performing to empty corners and the speakers consistently buzzing over one particularly popular high note.
This all said, The Distance You Have Come is not a show to be dissected or understood, but a show which enjoyably surrounds you with enough emotion that you can’t help but go along with it. The themes were contrived and the technical aspects were loose, but the exposed and unapologetic emotion of the performance culminated in a predictably moving evening.
Reviewed by William Nash
Photography by Darren Bell
The Distance You Have Come
Cockpit Theatre until 28th October
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Pieces of String
Mercury Theatre Colchester
Reviewed – 27th April 2018
“Joel Harper-Jackson in particular stood out with a tangibly human performance full of intensity and heart”
If I had gone into Pieces Of String knowing that its earliest inspiration to writer Gus Gowland came from seeing stories of being gay on the WWII frontlines, I would have expected an entirely different animal to the rounded, sentimental and sharply funny original musical that I watched last night. Although yes, that original concept is certainly apparent.
This show came together via embryonic shorter pieces by Gowland alongside musical development theatre company Perfect Pitch. It isn’t easy to come up with a pithy summary that gives justice to all the elements blended here but you can count on themes of love, family, taboo and grief, held together with some deeply sardonic laughs and a couple of stunning vocal performances to boot. The action takes place on the day of a funeral with various memories and trinket boxes coming to life to tell the story of the deceased while his family try, and fail, to get along nicely as they pack up his life for the last time.
Cue then some neatly spliced flashbacks and surprise appearances around the ragged family dynamic of surviving daughter Jane, played by a suitably taught Carol Starks. She could have been a piece of string herself, tightly wound and ready to snap at any point as the somewhat harshly written mother of two, juggling her discomfort of accepting her gay adult son and closing down the life of her father whom we discover was not a particularly warm aspect of her own childhood. The part of Jane is something of a harpy, an easily dislikable target played exceptionally by Starks, but I can’t help but wonder how much more she would have made of it had it been written slightly less two dimensionally.
Casting has been well allocated, and you will find an unsurprising history of theatre credits for all members who do the production and themselves proud and would be equally well placed in larger scale and more established shows. Joel Harper-Jackson in particular stood out with a tangibly human performance full of intensity and heart as the soldier Tom.
The songs weave into the action fairly fluidly though this is definitely a piece of musical theatre in the traditional sense rather than a play with songs. Act one’s Standing In The Shadows can be called nothing less than an absolute belter of a show tune, which would be possibly worthy to a Les Miserables comparison.
The set (Fin Redshaw) is quite gloriously nostalgic and I would challenge anyone not to look fondly on the retro furniture and decor that give a classic and shabby backdrop at the same time, mirroring the past and present in the action, the chintzy facade of propriety and the decay beneath it. Clever lighting (Ben Cracknell) provides the required battlefield feel for the trenches scenes simply but very effectively and deserves mention. I must also heap praise on movement director Ellen Kane as the choreography in Pieces of String is outstanding. The frequent and fluid physical movements of the cast flow gracefully to allow the gentle jumps between past and present to become truly elegant. Really beautifully done.
The performance I attended received a standing ovation which is understandable both due to the great work of cast and production team alike and also perhaps due to addressing the currently socially relevant themes of equality and toxic masculinity without ever being preachy or overtly judgmental on societal attitudes of then or now.
I can’t quite give it five stars, due to a few niggles I found with the characters of Jane and oh so typically gobby teenager Gemma, commendably played by Ella Dunlop but it felt written only to serve the purpose of having bit of youth and sarcasm to round out the cast. I also can’t quite reconcile myself to the timeline of the family in question. Pernickety souls such as myself may struggle to make it work without an additional generation in there somewhere but that’s a very small detail that I will shut up about promptly.
It was a pleasure to see Gus Gowland on stage at the end of the show, he seems to justly proud of his baby here, having taken on the creation of book (basically the script), lyrics and music like a true pro, despite being in the early stages of what I hope will be a substantial career in the arts. We need voices like his.
In parting, I have to say that for regional theatre Pieces of String is almost perfect, and I would thoroughly recommend catching it if you can.
Reviewed by Jenna Barton
Photography by Robert Workman
Pieces of String
Mercury Theatre Colchester until 5th May
Featuring Craig Mather