“Excepting the performances, everything feels a bit “debut”, despite the creative team’s impressive programme credits”
Kyle has spent his whole life desperate to be in the army. Idolising his father who was a soldier, he’s sacrificed the possibility of love, both romantic and familial, to ensure his military future. When he meets Chuck while serving in Afghanistan, he starts to wonder if he can have both. But after stepping on an IED, his hopes are upended.
Paper Cut by Andrew Rosendorf poses some important questions about masculinity, family loyalty, and love. The idea that gay men should have had to hide their sexual orientation in order to serve is rightly highlighted as bizarre and destructive, and the idea, too, that romantic love requires sex is called in to question.
Kyle’s relationship with his twin brother Jack is a brilliant example of unconditional love, of caring for someone even after they’ve betrayed you for their own ends. Joe Bollard as Jack is warm and awkward, laughs and tears coming as easily as each other, and he’s a brilliant counterpart to his overly intense brother.
Prince Kundai, who plays love interest Chuck, is charismatic and lovable. Entirely comfortable in his own skin, and endearingly sincere, it’s easy to see how he and Kyle might slip from friends to lovers.
Tobie Donovan, playing Harry, another love interest, is sweet and ridiculous. He’s got great comic timing and even gets a few laughs where I’m not sure there was supposed to be one.
While the plot itself is gritty and melancholy, the script feels a little too sentimental, relying on clichés and long…meaningful…pauses. Callum Mardy (Kyle) seems to get the bulk of these staring-off-in-the-distance speeches about the meaning of serving your country and so forth, and it overrides the genuine tragedy of his story, with him coming off a little ridiculous.
The script’s final lines, for example, completely diminish the fervent conversation that preceded them, as Kyle and Chuck look out at the sunset: “If you could go back and change anything, would you?”/ “So much.” The end. It’s just a bit lazy. And it’s a shame because in Mardy’s moments of levity, irony and even anger, he shows his capabilities, but he’s let down by the script’s sap.
Sorcha Corcoran’s design, a simple wooden backwall with a row of inbuilt storage chests, works fine, serving its practical purpose of hiding props and keeping the stage clean. That is, until the penultimate scene when before, in the cover of dark, the stage is scattered with gold confetti. This all comes to make sense when the final scene takes place on the beach, but less so when we’re in Jack’s apartment. Why not just wait a minute, and scatter the confetti directly before the beach scene? Or, given how minimalist the rest of the set is, why do it at all?
Lucia Sanchez Roldan’s lighting design is inoffensive: Strip lights hang from the ceiling, changing colours throughout. It doesn’t seem to have much to do with the story though, and seems a bit “designy” for the sake of it.
Excepting the performances, everything feels a bit “debut”, despite the creative team’s impressive programme credits. That said, there’s plenty to work with, and nothing a bit of red ink couldn’t fix.
HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING at the Southwark Playhouse
“a highly intelligent musical that lampoons modern ideas of success and ambition”
Just over sixty years ago the musical satire, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” took Broadway by storm, winning eight Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for best drama. Based on Shepherd Mead’s semi-autobiographical, humorous novel of the same name, it charts the rapid rise of J. Pierrepont Finch up the corporate ladder as he pursues his American Dream. It is inevitable that the office politics and gender assumptions are going to struggle to stand the test of time, but Georgie Rankcom’s exuberant and dynamic staging dismisses any reservations we might have with sheer razzmatazz and inventive risk-taking in the personnel department.
Gender blind casting is nothing new. In fact, it has become a bit of a paradox: the choices these days are nearly always far too deliberate to have been taken ‘blindly’. Discussion aside, it might not always work. But in this case, it adds an essential twist – and much needed sympathy for the principal, self-obsessed characters. Gabrielle Friedman, as the scheming and deceiving Finch, is an endearing mix of opportunism, cynicism and self-deprecation; played with a twinkle as bright as their comic asides are subtle. We can’t fail to be on their side as Finch cheats, lies and manipulates his way to the top. Already at the top is the misanthropic, misogynist company boss, J. B. Biggley. Tracie Bennett grabs the role by the horns and wrestles it into a loveable beast of burlesque parody.
Everything works wonders. And it is refreshing to see that the book and lyrics are an unashamed joke, shared by performers and audience alike. You don’t need a manual to instruct you not to take this too seriously. Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert’s book is charged with shocking wit and pertinent observation, while Frank Loesser’s music and lyrics elevate the piece with a captivating score and libretto. But that’s a sure thing. The real success lies in the staging. Alexzandra Sarmiento’s choreography is as sharp as any knife used by these back-stabbing individuals.
But the acerbity is softened by vulnerability and sensitivity. Allie Daniel in particular, as Finch’s love interest, gives a stunning performance as Rosemary Pilkington, the secretary who yearns for his neglect and would just be “happy to keep his dinner warm”. Daniel embodies comic genius and vocal virtuosity in a powerhouse of a performance. Her comic timing is matched by Elliot Gooch, who deliciously struts with camp abandon as Biggley’s nepotistic nephew intent on revenge. The quality of the singing cuts across the board, each voice given their moment in Loesser’s uplifting score which allows the characterisation to shine through. Grace Kanyamibwa comes into her own during the number ‘Brotherhood of Man’; an uplifting mix of scat and gospel. Nobody steals the limelight as solos merge into duets, into rousing company ensembles. Bennett’s finely tuned, gravelly tones blend lushly in ‘Love from a Heart of Gold’ with the operatic cadences of Annie Aitken, Biggley’s mis-appointed mistress and secretary. Verity Power, Milo McCarthy, Danny Lane, Taylor Bradshaw all stand out, and fall back in line again in what is probably one of the most generous and joyous companies on the London stage.
This is a highly intelligent musical that lampoons modern ideas of success and ambition, and not so modern ideas of a women’s place in the workforce, and old-school mentality. It does so with affection, not for the culprits but for the victims. ‘A Secretary Is Not a Toy’ is simultaneously behind, and ahead, of its time in this production. The aching duet ‘Rosemary’ is timeless, and beautiful. And the humour of the piece is brought out in ‘Coffee Break’, ‘Been a Long Day’ and ‘Paris Original’.
Finch may have used a how-to manual to reach success. Alas, in reality there is no handbook available to create a successful musical. But clearly this company doesn’t need one. The success of this show is pretty much guaranteed. Anyone can see that – without really trying.