“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:
“despite being predictable to the end, the story flows as harmoniously as the ensemble singing”
The setting for “Soho Cinders” is Old Compton Street, a street that knows no shame, where theatre goers rub shoulders with prostitutes and local businessmen on their way home are having one last drink as they collide with a younger crowd arriving for their first. It is a world which never really existed but you kind of feel it might have done. It is London as we know it, but with a technicolour gloss coating that fits perfectly with this modern-day retelling of ‘Cinderella’.
With music by George Stiles, Lyrics by Anthony Drewe and book by Drewe and Elliot Davis, the classic fable is given a satirical twist with a plot that is, in turns, comedic, romantic and serious. The mix of politics, scandal and true love is flawlessly balanced so that, despite being predictable to the end, the story flows as harmoniously as the ensemble singing.
Young, impoverished student Robbie is ‘Cinderella’, scraping a meagre living in his late mother’s laundrette, but facing eviction from his ‘ugly’ stepsisters who run the strip club next door. He just gets by with the occasional pay off from a local ‘Lord’, but when he begins a secret liaison with the already engaged Mayoral candidate, he looks set to lose everything. And everyone. Luke Bayer captivates as Robbie, having us rooting for him throughout. When he sings “Happy ever afters always turn out wrong”, we both wish and know that he’ll be proven wrong and he’ll find his prince. Part of me, however, wishes he would straighten up and fall for his co-worker and best-friend ‘Velcro’. Millie O’Connell imbues Velcro with a warmth, loyalty and irreverent wisdom that makes it one of the stand-out performances.
The show stealers are surely Clodagh and Dana, the stepsisters, though they do have a head start. Davis’ script is overflowing with brilliant one liners and these sisters have the lion’s share of them. Michaela Stern and Natalie Harman certainly make a meal of them too with unforgettably hilarious performances. But each character is given their moment to shine, while the ensemble highlights Adam Haigh’s dynamic choreography. Stiles and Drewe’s eclectic score is a catchy mix of ballads, duets and showstoppers, ranging from the achingly beautiful “They Don’t Make Glass Slippers” through to the fiery “I’m So Over Men”, which is reprised with a clever double-entendre re-interpretation of its title.
“Soho Cinders” is a musical with a heart full of passion and a belly full of laughs. As the nights draw in and the cold fronts approach the city, this show will certainly reignite the cinders and leave you with a feeling of warmth. The moral of the fairy-tale is in plain sight, but it doesn’t quench the enjoyment. This incredibly talented cast have as much fun as the audience. An audience who will still be humming the tunes way after midnight. Go! You’ll have a ball.