King’s Head Theatre
Reviewed – 6th September 2018
“it is this playful sense of fun, championed undoubtedly by director Benji Sperring, that saves the production from stalling at the starting line”
“We love Hamilton” intone the cast on a bare stage at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington, “and we found it hilarious that when Hamilton was first announced, loads of people thought it was a musical about Lewis Hamilton”. I’m not sure if this is really true, and not particularly hilarious, but somehow the misconception hatched the idea: “… wouldn’t it be funny to write a musical about Lewis Hamilton?” the cast then further expound. We are barely sixty seconds into the show and I think I already have the answer to the question.
Lewis Hamilton, arguably the most successful British F1 driver in the history of the sport, is less the subject but more of a vehicle, albeit a high-speed one, for a series of quips and smart references to the modern-day concepts of celebrity, media awareness and corporate sponsorship juxtaposed with and the age old ‘love versus career’ dialogue. If the jokes are occasionally a bit thin, the performances are consistently full bodied, and the four actors do rev up the material with their infectious energy. Although a sporting superstar, Lewis has been frequently described as running low on personality, but Letitia Hector pumps life into the character, fuelled by a sharp sense of irony and fun. Hector depicts Hamilton as a starry-eyed innocent, quickly apprised by the pantomime figure of his team member Fernando Alonso (Louis Mackrodt) and manager Big Ron (Jamie Barwood). “Drive less, smile more” Alonso advises, steering Hamilton headlong into the path of high-profile branding and trophy girlfriends. Cue Nicole Scherzinger; a skilled yet playful performance by Liberty Buckland, who somehow manages to turn caricature into a fully fleshed character.
In fact, it is this playful sense of fun, championed undoubtedly by director Benji Sperring, that saves the production from stalling at the starting line. Fiona English’s book relies on too few gags and David Eaton’s brilliantly scanned lyrics, while well-crafted and witty, are let down by unmemorable music.
There is an overall sense of ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ that courses through this show, and maybe it hasn’t travelled well from Edinburgh to London. The haphazard nature, though, does give the show an anarchic edge and it is refreshing to see a company make just as much fun of themselves as the subjects, while riding teasingly close to the wrong side of our libel laws. Yet it also falls victim to these very qualities that do suggest a work in progress; with the chequered flag still a few laps away.
In the prologue, the audience are told that it has taken Lin Manuel Miranda four and a half years to get his hit musical “Hamilton” to where it is. This musical, though, has literally raced to get where it is. And unfortunately, it shows.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by The Other Richard
King’s Head Theatre until 22nd September