“Hannah Benson’s immersive staging bubbles with an energy”
There is, and always has been, debate about the purpose or usefulness of demographic tags. But whether we like them or not, or whether they influence an individual or a group of personalities, the labels are here to stay.
If you are a ‘Millennial’ you witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks that shook the world, and were likely to be old enough to comprehend its historical significance. You grew up in the shadow of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; you will have watched the erosion of the global political climate. Reaching adulthood, you would have walked headlong into the height of an economic recession. And the internet has pretty much always been there for you.
Is this significant?
If you are a ‘Millennial’ (according to psychologists) you are likely to be confident, but also confused. You are tolerant, but have an overblown sense of entitlement. You are generous, but at the same time narcissistic. In other words, you merely possess the contradictions that make us human.
Elliot Clay has written a song cycle that tells these Millennials’ stories. But he runs up against the same problems. For the most part they come across as merely human stories; under the Millennial banner. And it is a banner that is waved flamboyantly. Colourful yet superficial. There is little that earmarks a Millennial’s ownership of the subject matter. So we are left with a song cycle. And there is nothing wrong with that. Clay has composed some very fine numbers here. But a trick has been missed, and what is slightly frustrating about the show is the awareness that some sort of thread could have been weaved into the overall concept; or something to bind the characters into some sort of collective. To give them a real, solid context or journey.
Fortunately, that reservation in no way extends to the presentation. Hannah Benson’s immersive staging bubbles with an energy that sweeps aside the misgivings and allows us just to have fun. Andrew Exeter’s design matches, and supersedes, the sheer pizzazz. The Other Palace is transformed into a candied, Wonka-like, emporium. Part disco, part adventure playground; shimmering with colours that overflow with e-numbers. You can taste the sweetness of the set.
The performances are the main attraction. Despite most of their energy being channelled into Tinovimbanashe Sibanda’s slick choreography, the cast of six unleash their glorious voices to the crowd with the dynamism and craftmanship befitting the cream of Musical Theatre. Clay’s songs and lyrics are given the starry treatment and they have the appeal to stand their ground, but “Millennials”, as a show, lacks the cohesive ingredients to ensure a similar longevity. But as a gig, it’s a pretty good night out.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Mark Senior
The Other Palace until 7th August
All our reviews this month so far – click to read:
“delivers on festive cheer and wholesome family entertainment”
Upon arrival, the corridor to the theatre is packed with an expectant audience, all of adult size barring one. Nonetheless there is a feeling of festive excitement. It seems no matter how suited up and cynical we become, everybody wants a little bit of magic this time of year, and a Christmas Cinderella show seems just the ticket.
Four of the five cast members begin as puppeteers for paper birds and an infant Ella, whilst Bryan Pilkington plays a benevolent and charming father. We’re introduced to Ella first as a crying bundle in a basket, then as a marionette; a clever bit of prop use sees a pair of empty boots being puppeteered about to portray Ella’s adolescence, and finally we are introduced to Molly Byrne as the fully-grown Ella.
Her father’s death is announced by the arrival of step-siblings played by Aimee Louise Bevan and Joel Black, wearing private school uniforms and punishing scowls. Bryan Pilkington transforms effortlessly on stage from kindly father to evil step-mother as he dons a haughty countenance, house coat and matching snood.
The general plot plays out as we expect, with Ella flung in to the role of lowly servant Cinderella, generally being tormented by her new and nasty family. She of course retains a twinkle in her eye and, whilst playing in the forest, she encounters the prince, as played by Charlie Bateman. Here the two bond over a shared avian passion, and Cinderella impresses with her great knowledge of bird calls rather than an innate delicacy and ladylikeness as the classic fairytale would have it, whilst Bateman’s prince is all limbs and enthusiasm, over the sullen and rebellious heir we have come to expect. Instead of glass slippers we have studded Dr. Martens, and instead of the dreaded panto audience participation, we have a pleasantly awkward chat with the prince, trying out his party banter. Most pleasing of all the production choices, though, is Ella’s stepbrother who, rather than conforming to the two-dimensional spoilt brat trope, shows some character nuance, developing a kinship with Ella and gaining her trust as a confidante. Black plays both nasty and nice equally convincingly, and though he’s let down a little by his singing, he pulls off the part very well.
Whilst it’s near impossible to avoid the syrupy sweetness of the Cinderella fairytale, the slightly bloody ending smacks a little of Roald Dahl’s take on proceedings rather than Walt Disney’s, and we enjoy a fairly ominous minor pastiche of ‘The Birds’ in serving the evil step-mother her just deserts.
Well-timed lighting and sound give the illusion of a much grander set-up than a fifty-seat pub theatre, and on the whole, the production does a lot with a little. There are some ropey vocals, and at times there’s a bit too much acting considering the intimacy of the auditorium, nonetheless, the Jack Studio Theatre delivers on festive cheer and wholesome family entertainment.