Bold vocals cannot cure an ailing plot
When the 25 year old, former child star turned musician, Kid Pop is papped snorting copious amounts of cocaine in a murky nightclub a judge sentences him to 60 days in a rehabilitation facility. There he encounters others battling various addictions and afflictions as he reluctantly sets out on the road to recovery whilst his greedy manager schemes his lucrative downfall. Whilst an interesting (though not overly original) concept, the delivery of the plot is woeful. For a story that could chart a complex and abrasive character’s route to healing and acceptance, the piece speaks very little about recovery, instead padding out the plot with woolly interludes and unnecessary songs. The characters are painfully two-dimensional, entirely unrelatable and find their foundations in uncomfortable and aged stereotypes - this was not an enjoyable watch.
The script has the essence of being cobbled together last minute with marks of poorly chosen compromises as the little character development we do achieve occurs at such speed that the audience needs to be treated for whiplash. Kid Pop for example begins a scene involving group discussion in his signature cruel and dismissive style before 30 seconds later suddenly ready to turn it all around because he finds the new arrival Lucy attractive - lazy storytelling. One character receives a smidge of interesting development, Oscar Conlon-Morrey has a delightful turn as Phil Newman. He reveals to his fellow addicts that beyond his gambling and food addictions he finds comfort in living a secret life not as Phil but as Philippa and dreams of opening a cheese shop with his wife. Conlon-Morrey offers a tender and hilarious performance and rightly manages to steal the spotlight in every scene he’s in.
The music from Grant Black and Murray Lachlan Young is pretty good, particularly in the rousing group numbers such as ‘Letters Goodbye’ and ‘Just For Today,’ the vocal performances of the talented cast the driving force throughout. The smaller songs are nice, again the vocals doing the heavy lifting but are seriously undermined by some questionable lyrics, the wafer-thin character work shining through resulting in the actors singing cheesy and generic text. There is plenty of potential nestled within the songs but in this current form, the songs are on the whole forgettable, carried forward by the might of the cast’s voices beyond anything else.
Several strong cast members are underutilised in this piece. Mica Paris and Jodie Steele barely get a look in during the show, limited to a few appearances and some shared songs which seems a bizarre waste of talent. Christian Maynard has a strong evening out as the lead Kid Pop, working well with Maiya Quansah-Breed’s Lucy but both their performances are severely restricted by the flimsy material provided to them - their impressive vocals able to paper over some of the cracks. Keith Allen has fun as Kid Pop’s manager Malcolm Stone, easily settling into the villainous character. His scenes with Jodie Steele are particularly dark but the weight of their discussion never quite landed as intended, far more harmless than their words suggested.
The staging in the limited (in the round) space in the new Neon 194 venue is fine, though the sightlines are a struggle if like me you are placed behind a row set at the same level as your own (I missed a lot of the central action) and the lighting design struggles to keep the actors in focus when they stray to the edge of the stage. There was a weird irony in this musical about addiction being performed in a literal bar but the less I consider that the better.
Considering this musical has had multiple smaller prior runs in the last six or seven years, I can’t help but feel disappointed that more has not been made of it. The script, characters and plot are so poorly constructed to an extent that the result is sloppy and frustrating. With a cast such as this, I expected more.
Running until 17th February - Tickets
Photography - Mark Senior