“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.
“Tatty Hennessy’s perception and imagination bring this production alive”
Love and music, freedom and flares! The gardens of London become the Forest of Arden in this brilliantly updated version of ‘As You Like It’. By setting the production in the late 60s, early 70s, director, Tatty Hennessy, transfers the essence of Shakespeare’s pastoral, romantic comedy to the hippie era with its optimistic ideas of free thinking, breaking rules and getting away from conformity. In addition, it underlines the strength of his women characters, complementing the positive female spirit of the play by changing the genders of Jaques and the Dukes and generating a mother-earth forest community, supportive and nurturing.
The excellent performances by the whole cast bring vibrancy and shade, several members having two or three roles to portray, creating texture and fluidity with an array of well-defined figures; Stanton Plummer-Cambridge and Lamin Touray excel in this multitasking.
Set against a background of growing feminism, the women are unapologetically feisty and demanding in their pursuit of life and love. The enamoured Rosalind, in a spirited performance by Katharine Moraz, takes control of her destiny, accompanied by Comfort Fabian’s Celia, whose genuine enthusiasm is astutely modernised in movement and speech. Phoebe (Emmy Stonelake) and Audrey ((Jodie Jacobs) are beautifully unabashed and determined in procuring their hearts’ desires, and Julia Righton steps assuredly between good and evil as both Duchesses. Sian Martin plays Jaques with a cynical sneer, perfectly counterbalancing the enjoyment and love for life which surrounds her. And up against all this feminine zeal, Orlando (Jack Brett) is the picture of bemused, love-struck youth. A special mention for Sydney K Smith’s ‘Motown’ Touchstone, who encapsulates the foolish image, moves and talk of those disco days (which some of us remember!), while wholly attuned to Shakespeare’s words.
The importance of music in ‘As You Like It’, being Shakespeare’s most musical play, naturally lends itself to the 70s ambiance of the early music festivals which blends into the parks and gardens milieu and draws the audience into a convivial atmosphere. The stylish singing which sets the scene and the diverse incidental songs and instrumental music (Richard Baker) show an added facet to these talented actors. Simple, colourful decor (Emily Stuart) immediately conveys a feeling of rustic celebration and the casting (Becky Paris) allows for a balanced variety of accents which add depth and clarity to the characters.
Tatty Hennessy’s perception and imagination bring this production alive with relevance to those years not so far gone and to today’s similar issues of inequality and oppression. The changes of era and gender have sense and purpose, showing the fortitude and quality of women and the need to escape authority, but also the timeless quest for love and happiness. ‘As You Like It’ is the perfect end to a sunny summer’s day…or any other day.