Tag Archives: Pippa Evans

Normality

★★★

The Other Palace

Normality

Normality

The Other Palace

Reviewed – 19th September

★★★

 

“A louder voice, greater dynamic variation and some brutal editing are needed to keep it afloat in the current swamp of new musicals”

 

The deluge of new musicals on the London theatre scene is a double-edged sword. Whilst this might please devotees of the genre, the wider appeal inevitably evaporates. And for composers and producers, this overcrowding adds its own challenges. The annual BEAM festival for new musicals, for example, received over three hundred pitches to be whittled down to fifty, while the West End continues to churn out re-issues, jukebox musicals, imports and any old film titles.

Thankfully there are now theatres dedicated to developing and promoting new musicals. The Other Palace is at the forefront of this movement, accepting submissions year-round as well as staging its ‘new musical workshop sharings’ where the audience is at the core of the process, witnessing the evolving show and offering feedback. “Normality” is one such musical testing the water. Subtitled “A Musical Guide to Quantifying Love in a World of Frauds and Scammers”, it is as quirky and zestful as its tag line suggests. Writers Jules Kleiser and Nige Reid are both song writers/musicians and have written the score for a four-piece rock band and ten voices. Under Charlotte Peters’ stylish direction, the cast of ten fill the stage, and the auditorium, creating a host of characters without feeling overcrowded.

At the centre is Norman Goodman, a small town, prog-rock obsessed keyboard player, with a nerdiness that is off the scale. Thinking that he is auditioning for a life changing gig he has, in fact, wandered into a corporate interview for a dodgy City trading company. Failing the interview, he nevertheless impresses by fixing the office computer. Invited to design an IT system to predict market trends for the firm, he then unwittingly finds himself embroiled in a Machiavellian financial scam. Norman’s narrow outlook on life is cruelly broadened as he battles with the dilemma of who to trust; a quandary he equates to a scientific equation.

The musical opens with too soft a punch. The band, placed up in the gallery, lack the volume to prick up the ears. But one quickly realises that this is to compensate for the singers not using mics. Whether this is an artistic or financial decision is unclear, but it does lead to problems of projection. Much of the libretto is lost during the solo numbers, particularly when some of the melodies wander beyond the actors’ vocal range. This is not ‘legit’ musical theatre, so the inconsistent quality of the singing can be forgiven, and where technique is occasionally lacking it is certainly made up for by character. Dan Buckley, in fine voice as Norman, is believable as the wunderkind with a heart, while Siobhan Athwal’s love interest mixes a no-nonsense steeliness with a true-hearted empathy. Ken Christiansen is all cockney brass as the bulldog CEO, unaware that all around him are ready to pull the carpet from underneath him. Claire Marlowe stands out as the privileged, upper class Lady Cocksure, with more faces than the town clock, who is intent on bringing everybody down.

But nothing unexpected really happens; either in the comedy, the dialogue or the score. With the exception of a refreshingly surreal Tango and a Ska infused number the soundtrack is quite monotone. It is like the composers are handling the material with kid gloves. There is a rawness to the satire of the book that is unmatched by a slightly reticent, almost polite, delivery of the guitar-based numbers. A louder voice, greater dynamic variation and some brutal editing are needed to keep it afloat in the current swamp of new musicals. At present it feels adrift in its own deference.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

 


Jonathan Evans

The Other Palace until 21st September

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Eugenius! | ★★★★ | February 2018
Suicide | ★★★½ | May 2018
Bromance: The Dudesical | ★★★★ | October 2018
Murder for Two | ★★★★ | December 2018
The Messiah | ★★★★ | December 2018
Toast | ★★★ | April 2019
Falsettos | ★★½ | September 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

The Good The Bad and The Fifty

The Good, The Bad and the Fifty
★★★★

Wilton’s Music Hall

The Good The Bad and The Fifty

The Good The Bad and the Fifty

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 15th February 2019

★★★★

 

“The cast is strong, verbally agile and crucially – so, so crucially for a show like this – seem to be having a good time”

 

Improvised comedy can be nerve-shredding. For casts, certainly, but for audiences too. Jokes teeter on the brink of finding their target or falling flat. Repartee must hustle along at a relentless pace. Everything is but seconds away from an awkward pause or a fluffed line. Thank God, then, that the stellar cast of the London Improvathon keep it all on the hilarious side of panic.

The theme for this year is all things Wild West, and the series of character introductions demonstrates immediately what territory we’re in (literally). You’ve got your classic hellfire-preaching pastor and chaste daughter, your gunslinging sheriff, your out-of-towner and your town drunk (the likeable character of Dirk Gundersson, with some laugh-out-loud delivery). On the subject of those character introductions, this cast is so huge that running through each character in this way actually risks an early slackening of pace – and hey, isn’t it cheating to use your improv time for beefy prepared intros?

No matter. Once we’re into the meat of the show, the true improvisation, the fun really begins. The model is slick; an excellent compère/director works alongside a remarkably adaptable pair of musicians and a lighting crew to set up each scene, at which point selected actors are bundled in and, without so much as a ‘howdy pard’ner’, the freestyling begins. Naturally some scenes are stronger than others, and, at least in the first of the 25 two-hour chapters, a sense of a meaningful through narrative is hard to find. But the need for one slips away as we’re lured into the peculiar world of ‘Wilton’s Creek’ one vignette at a time. The cast is strong, verbally agile and crucially – so, so crucially for a show like this – seem to be having a good time.

As is perhaps so often the way with improv, standout moments come when things start to get away from our players. It’s quickly clear that we’re in capable hands, with some actors always displaying a clear mastery over their craft (the character of Colonel Sanders, for example, is uniformly a joy to watch). Feeling secure, the audience enjoy the occasional verbal cul-de-sac confident that it will be turned to humour. The Colonel’s spelling out of ‘perspicacity’, visibly instantly regretted, is a great example of this, as is Pastor John breaking character to address an audience member and warn that God will text him their name.

The night isn’t perfect. It’s rotten luck for the less confident cast members to sit among such an accomplished ensemble, as less than whip-smart performances become all the more obvious. And it was notable to me that, at least in the chapter I saw, this cast of approaching twenty people were all white.

This is a blissfully adroit cast though (one might say perspicacious), and it’s hard to begrudge a moment of the very apparent fun being had on stage. And yee ha! It’s delicious silliness for audiences too.

 

Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Claire Bilyard

 


The Good The Bad and the Fifty

Wilton’s Music Hall

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Songs For Nobodies | ★★★★ | March 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★½ | June 2018
Sancho – An act of Remembrance | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Twelfth Night | ★★★ | September 2018
Dietrich – Natural Duty | ★★★★ | November 2018
The Box of Delights | ★★★★ | December 2018
Dad’s Army Radio Hour | ★★★★ | January 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com