I may have jokingly said in the past that the easiest way to ruin a good story is turn it into a musical; which makes it all the more odd to now be saying that Skitzoid Production’s Last Sales Conference of the Apocalypse is a fun musical let down by its plot. It isn’t that it’s bad; it’s just that there are too many stories all at the same time.
So what is the plot? Well, a nuclear countdown has been accidently triggered and everyone rendered unconscious. We go into Sam’s (Jonny Brace) imagination, where he is a showrunner for a period drama starring his three unconscious colleagues. Except it’s a bit bland (clever metaphor for avoiding conflict), so T-Bass/ Reverend (Daniel Nyari) creates a spin-off show whilst we are still in Sam’s head. Alongside this, Aesha (Zara Evans) and Stats (Katie Penfold) have their own historical traumas to cope with and – still within Sam’s imagination – we drift into their pasts to confront these. Put even more simply, Sam imagines his friends, who imagine their own back stories, who all have flashbacks all whilst in Sam’s imagination. Don’t say I also need to draw diagrams for you to piece it together?
And there’s the big problem: writer Dave Bain has added excessive and unnecessary layers to what could be a great story. It’s as if he wanted each character to have their own detailed, personal arc – which is admirable, but results in utter confusion. There are literally half a dozen separate stories here, each deserving breathing room, but each suffocated and fighting for the limited air available.
Ok, now for the good bits.
Having said all that, there is plenty to make this show worth an evening of your time. Uppermost is Julia Zlotnick’s choreography set to some delightful and vareid musical numbers. Some of the ensemble pieces are wonderful; rich with content that had me grinning with pleasure.
The four core cast members bring so much to the show in their own unique ways. Evans’ singing is powerful and show-stealing. She blasts her songs out with gusto and a passion that suggests a bright future in musicals. Nyari handles the tough dual roles as Delivery Man and Reverend marvellously and has a physicality that’s put to good use throughout. Penfold brings superb comic timing, plus it’s great to hear a strong regional accent not being toned down for a London stage. Then leading man Brace holds proceedings together nicely.
Some wonderful creative work demonstrates there is plenty of thought behind every moment: from lighting design that helps move from underground shelter to period drama, to nifty arcade game projections accompanying one song.
Finally, amongst all this are some heavy themes, from domestic violence and conversion therapy to unresolved grief. All, though, weigh each other down such that none feel satisfactorily addressed. The conversion therapy does briefly shine through late on and you wonder how much more interesting and insightful the play could have been with greater time and focus given to just one or two important topics.
Last Sales Conference of the Apocalypse is a fun musical with a lot to admire, but it’s frustrating that no-one was brave enough during development to suggest losing some elements to allow others to develop fully. For my first musical in six years, I have to say I was surprised how foot‑tappingly enjoyable it all was, but it could, and should, be thought-provoking as well as foot-tapping. To achieve that it needs to have much more focus.
Written and directed by: Dave Bain
Choreography by: Julia Zlotnick
Voice of God by: Marcus Bentley
Set design by: Valentina Turtur
Produced by: Skitzoid Productions
Last Sales Conference of The Apocalypse plays at Waterloo East until 30 October. Further information and bookings can be found here.