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  • Henry Longstaff

Ordinary Days - Cockpit Theatre

Adam Gwon’s beloved musical returns to London

The cast pose in a line


In a post 9/11 New York, four people are trying to find their way, each working out who they are, what they want and what gives them purpose. Is it a relationship, academia or simply the desire to make a difference? Gwon’s interwoven, sung-through musical explores these stories through our fundamental need for connection and Scatter Productions have ensured that it retains its magic.

The first character introduced is Warren, a wannabe artist desperate to understand people’s “life stories,” but instead is currently stuck cat sitting and handing out flyers on the streets of New York. Dean Makowski-Clayton (alternate) is marvellous in this role and brilliantly conveys the innocent and almost naive nature of Warren. He successfully charts the growth and development of the character as blind and infectious enthusiasm turns into self-reflection, melancholic yet still full of heart.

By chance, Warren meets Deb, an English Lit major, who is cynical, defensive and yet, in part thanks to Hannah Turner’s performance, instantly likeable. The aggressive charm Turner embeds in her performance is a delight and her amusing, exasperated reactions to Warren’s personality are on point. She makes for a highly convincing Deb and between humorous moments manages to capture the loneliness and her longing for her dreams to come true exquisitely. Makowski-Clayton and Turner make for a great double act as their respective characters spur the other onwards.

The cast pose in a line

On the other side of the story, we have Jason and Claire, who have just taken the big step of moving in together. Jason, played by Jonathan Carlton, is full of hope and excitement but equally aware that Claire is holding back and is unsure whether, despite his best efforts, the relationship is going to last. Carlton brings a wonderful goofiness to Jason but allows the fear of a failing relationship to peak through nonetheless. It is impossible not to root for Carlton’s character and that is a testament to his performance.

Claire is riddled with self-doubt, plagued by a past she refuses to talk about and is, therefore, a character full of challenging subtleties. Yet, Laura Dawn Pyatt is exceptional in her portrayal. The peak of her performance arrives in the song, I’ll be here, which left me and many other members of the audience with teary eyes and sniffling noses. The payoff of this song is mostly possible because Pyatt expertly builds the complex emotions of Claire throughout the show, resulting in this powerful number.

Helming this new production is Julie Atherton, a member of the original London cast and despite using fairly simple staging this version feels fresh but retains the truth of past versions. She has guided the cast well and enabled them to find the heart of their characters. With help from movement direction Alice O’Hanlon and Bob Sterrett’s simple yet highly effective set, Atherton’s production is slick and clever in how the space evolves throughout, finally giving us the canvas of an ordinary day. Musical direction from Benjamin Levy ensures that Gwon’s music is sounding at its very best, with all four actors serving up top vocal performances.

There is no doubt that Gwon’s musical has remained so popular because of its universal accessibility. There are so many relatable elements in all of the well-crafted characters and as someone who has moved into a hundred-storey city in the last few years, it felt even more poignant and truthful. All of this is alive and well in this new production - not a surprise when there is strong direction and a cast delivering masterclasses in performing through song. There are a few rough edges in this piece that could be fine-tuned, but I found they added to the human quality of this musical. This production is sublime and moving and everything the show should and can be. Musical theatre at its purest.

Photos: Craig Sugden

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