Pros: Stood up as a piece of theatre, the cast and crew have done the impossible in creating a watchable new micro-musical.
Cons: The ambitious, existential ideas came across as laboured and somewhat lost in the final product.
Lurking beneath the streets of Soho at the Tristan Bates Theatre is a tale of a troubled couple whose fortunes change when larger-than-life Quentin Dentin, accompanied by his cutesy sidekicks, bursts through the radio and into their living room to give some much-needed relationship mentoring. . . through the power of song.
The cast are joined onstage by three sturdy performers who look good and sound better. The band are fully immersed in the performance, sunglass clad, and dipping their heads at just the right moments; their presence adds to, rather than detracts from the action. The score, courtesy of writer Henry Carpenter, supplies a Brit-pop inspired backdrop and is brilliantly composed.
The writing provides some topical nuggets, including a nostalgic account of running through fields of wheat. However, the story ultimately boils down to a one-and-a-half hour marriage counselling session with songs that don’t do much to develop either the plot or the characters. Saying that, there is at least one special moment: a ‘harsh truths’ section in the couple’s counselling in which the pair are forced to lay out exactly what grinds their gears in the relationship. Eventually, Quentin is roped into the game, and the audience is given the first (and only) insight into the character’s hidden and fascinating insecurities. It would be better if we had the chance to see a bit more.
Overall, the existential elements that the story is nudging towards are ultimately lost. The more engaging elements end up being overshadowed by songs about using lemons to fix relationship woes. At one point, Quentin asks the couple about their dreams; rather than using the opportunity to understand them and their past more deeply, the audience is presented with a sugar-coated and superficial story that doesn’t come across as being terribly realistic or interesting. There is a fabulous, confetti-drenched moment at the end when Quentin wins the upgrade he has been fighting for, and marches onto the stage wearing a gold suit. Critically, however, we never find out the character’s motivation in wanting to receive the upgrade.
Special mention goes to Caldonia Walton for her choreography which is totally on point. Every head-turn, tilt and dance step is perfectly in sync with the movement of the other actors onstage.
Luke Lane’s Quentin carries the show with his enthusiastic performance and slamming vocals. His manner is similar to Jim Carrey in The Truman Show – always full of energy, always captivating. However, his larger-than-life persona often eclipses the more nuanced performances of
the other characters, though that may be the point.
The play bills itself as one about ambition, happiness and self-fulfilment. Though the audience is treated to some excellent set pieces, the final product lacks payoff for not making good on this promise.
Writer: Henry Carpenter
Producer: Hannah Elsy
Director: Adam Lenson
Choreographer and co-director: Caldonia Walton
Booking until: Saturday 29 July
Booking link: https://www.