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Photo credit @ Dee McCourt

Review: Be More Chill, Shaftesbury Theatre

After what the announcer describes as an “uncommonly long period of buffering” Be More Chill is finally back with a bang, and it’s so worth the wait! Weedy Jeremy (Scott Folan) finds it hard to just make it through the day, picked on for being a geek, and struggling with the challenges of normal teenage life. If he can just stay under the radar that’s an achievement. So when he’s given the chance to be socially popular he jumps at the opportunity. However, this involves using untested nano-technology called a SQUIP that will get inside his head and give…

Summary

Rating

Excellent

An uplifting, bold bright and beautiful celebration of successful social networking, without the need for technology to tell you how to behave

User Rating: 3.44 ( 5 votes)

After what the announcer describes as an “uncommonly long period of buffering” Be More Chill is finally back with a bang, and it’s so worth the wait!

Weedy Jeremy (Scott Folan) finds it hard to just make it through the day, picked on for being a geek, and struggling with the challenges of normal teenage life. If he can just stay under the radar that’s an achievement. So when he’s given the chance to be socially popular he jumps at the opportunity. However, this involves using untested nano-technology called a SQUIP that will get inside his head and give him instructions on how to behave. For a while it seems to be working; but is what he wants really what he needs?

This vibrant, colourful and upbeat production is the quintessential good night out. It’s fast and funny, with an incredible number of memorable songs and a talented, likeable cast. The choreography is sharp, the orchestra flawless. It’s an excellent script that allows us to see beneath the surface of the characters; to really share an understanding of mutual insecurities, and the need for self-belief.

Folan makes the role of Jeremy his own, accomplishing seamless transformations from zero to hero and everything in between. This has to be an award-winning performance! He’s supported by a fiercely strong and talented cast, and there are some amazing singing voices in there. James Hameed as Rich and Renée Lamb as Jenna were particularly impressive, and I look forward to seeing where they go from here.

Don’t be fooled by the brash, bright staging and zombie references. This show deals with some really important themes: depression, suicidal thoughts, manipulative technology and detrimental social pressures. It ranges from massive hilarity to being intensely moving, simultaneously exposing these issues and giving permission for honesty and self-assurance. Sometimes the language is actually shocking: Jeremy is explicitly told “everything about you is so terrible” until he believes it. This, though, serves to identify a media culture that routinely disempowers people, before we are later reassured by examples of enabling positivity.

And it’s not just teenage problems that are acknowledged. Jeremy’s dad (Christopher Fry) touchingly represents the adults out there who struggle with their own issues, widening our perspective. Bravely comical in his underpants, it’s through exemplifying personal, mutual support and integrity that he and Michael help Jeremy to save the day.

The outstanding song of the night is undoubtedly ‘Michael in the Bathroom’. This is an iconic number encapsulating the feeling of ‘loneliness in a crowd’ that so many of us have experienced; under pressure from the rest of the world hammering on the door. Blake Patrick Anderson delivers it magnificently, with incredible pathos that demands your attention.

If I had one niggle with this production it’s that at times the roles verged a little too far into pantomime, particularly in the portrayal of Brooke and Chloe. To me, they should be allowed to play sexy teenagers as sexy teenagers, because the script already undermines their raunchiness and puts it into context – it doesn’t need to be manipulated by OTT characterisation. Making them cartoonish in this way removes some sense of the dangerous social pressures they impose on Jeremy.

That aside, the end of the evening brought a standing ovation that was totally deserved: an audience united in agreement that social networking does not have to be controlled by technology, and it’s OK to think for yourself. Sometimes the retro ways are the best.

Based on the book by: Ned Vizzini
Adapted by: Joe Tracz
Music and lyrics by: Joe Iconis 
Directed by: Stephen Brackett
Choreography by: Chase Brock
Set design by: Beowulf Boritt
Musical direction by: Louisa Green
Orchestration by:
Charlie Rosen

Be More Chill is currently scheduled to play at Shaftesbury Theatre until 5 September. Further information and booking via the below link.

About Mary Pollard

By her own admission Mary goes to the theatre far too much, and will watch just about anything. Her favourite musical is Matilda, which she has seen 13 times, but she’s also an Anthony Neilson and Shakespeare fan - go figure. She has a long history with Richmond Theatre; in Marketing, as a tour guide, archivist and volunteer, but is currently having fun volunteering at the Polka Theatre, which makes sense as she is ET's specialist in children's theatre and puppetry! Mary insists on now being called The Master having used the Covid pandemic to achieve an MA in London's Theatre and Performance.