Above the Stag
Reviewed – 12th April 2019
“a musical comedy that needs to be stripped back and developed to make it into something that delivers the potential of its narrative”
‘Queereteria TV’ takes us post-apocalypse, as a group of gay men take over a TV station, that was the previous site of gay cruising club, Club Queereteria. It’s a queer comedy complete with music, dance and drag, and is the third in a trilogy of shows that follow Torsten’s journey (played by Andy Bell, Erasure), each accompanied by a concept album.
As we enter Above the Stag’s new and improved auditorium, it is clear that this is a beautiful space. David Shields’ set design compliments it well. Curved screens are used effectively throughout the play, particularly in the second half of the show, where we are placed in a kitchen, in the House of Commons and in an episode of Dragon’s Den. These sketches are also some of the strongest moments of the show, which unfortunately fails to deliver or develop much of a narrative that an audience can emotionally engage in.
The script, written by Barney Ashton-Bullock, is overwritten and overindulgent, and because of this it is frequently inaccessible. It is full of big ideas and aims to explore some vital topics including queer sexuality, fetish, gender conformity, the power of the media, societal pressure and conformity, however they fail to come together. Whilst it might work in a shorter format, a full length play where every other sentence is an innuendo quickly becomes repetitive, as there is no nuance to the humour. Unfortunately as a result, the whole play is one note. The fun and potential within the script could be condensed into an hour and be considerably more entertaining and investigative than the current product.
Ashton-Bullock also appears in the play as Torsten’s lover, Daniel. Unfortunately his acting is no better than his writing, and there is no chemistry between him and Bell. Torsten is consistently wooden and ultimately this feels like a glorified showcase for Bell’s singing. Tom Mann can clearly act but his dancing is sadly out of time, whilst William Spencer, who is also the choreographer, is a competent and stylish dancer, who struggles with his acting. There are certainly issues that director, Robert McWhir, should’ve ironed out to streamline these performances.
On a stronger note, Matthew Baldwin plays Lady Domina Bizarre and brings a fantastic energy to the stage. Baldwin is funny and vivid, and the best performance of the show. Peter Straker also delivers some lovely moments, finding a level of honesty and truth in a play that otherwise loses this in melodrama and overwriting.
This is a musical comedy that needs to be stripped back and developed to make it into something that delivers the potential of its narrative, and entertains with nuance.
Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com
Photography by PBG Studios
Above the Stag until 28th April
Previously reviewed at this venue:
[title of show]
Above the Stag
Reviewed – 15th February 2019
“The format of the show is stuffed full of comic and satirical potential”
[title of show] charts the story of writer and composer Hunter and Jeff (Michael Vinsen and Jordan Fox respectively) trying to write a musical with their friends Susan (Natalie Williams) and Heidi (Kirby Hughes) for an upcoming festival and all the trials and tribulations that accompany it. The beautifully meta aspect of the show is that Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen were actually the creatives behind [title of show], which is the musical they wrote for an upcoming festival – it’s at one point described as ‘a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical’. This provides a delicious sense of spontaneity to the way the action on stage unfolds, as all the characters are aware that they are in a musical that is being written – one character remarks that Susan has been very quiet during the scene, she responds that it’s because she didn’t have a line in the script until now. The format of the show is stuffed full of comic and satirical potential, and moments like this wring all its possibilities fully.
However, the show was originally written in 2004 and has been considerably successful, even making it to Broadway in 2008, and so the second act of the show – which charts the journey of the show following the festival – feels disjointed and not quite as polished as a result. The first act’s blend of snappy dialogue, clever commentary and engaging songs that are fully integrated with the plot and characters are in the second act replaced with a messier concoction that feels more like a play that drags out a contrived conflict between two characters and begrudgingly throws a song in every now and then until the final sequence.
Thankfully, the shortcomings in [title of show]’s writing in the latter half is made up for by stellar direction and performances throughout. Director Robert McWhir takes every opportunity to let the story and the characters shine through, ensuring that the weaker elements feel more fleshed out and that the comedy and pathos is given the full spotlight. His smart staging makes the relatively cosy space feel huge, giving the actors ample room to take advantage of – and they certainly do. Every single cast member delivers an imaginative and encapsulating performance, although Michael Vinsen is especially exemplary in the relatability, drive, and hilarity he brings to Hunter. The only shortfall is that – as the actors don’t have mics – if they are at the opposite end of the space, lyrics can occasionally be lost.
This is a shame, as the music and lyrics are often catchy and clever. Numbers such as ‘Monkeys and Playbills’, ‘Die, Vampire, Die!’, and ‘Nine People’s Favourite Thing’ are all gleefully inventive and, thanks to Oli George Rew’s expert accompaniment, feel vivid and characterful in their composition.
The sheer love of musical theatre and the process of creation that [title of show] displays will make you fall in love with it despite some missteps, and will have you leaving the theatre truly charmed, and a little more inspired in your own dreams and aspirations.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by PBG Studios
[Title of Show]
Above the Stag until 10th March
Last ten shows covered by this reviewer: