The Little Big Things - @sohoplace
The latest offering in British Musical Theatre
An unlikely narrative for a musical, Henry Fraser’s transformative memoir is a vibrant story about accepting and overcoming adversity that resonates beyond the confines of the theatre. Crafted with delicate care but imbued with bold choices, the London theatre scene has a new bright spark ready to leave audiences warmed, hopeful and supplied with the resilience to face the outside world - a beautiful evening of theatre.
At 17, Henry Fraser had an accident in the sea whilst holidaying with his older brothers. Surely destined to be the next big England rugby star the jigsaw pieces were firmly falling into place, but his dream came to an abrupt end as a crushed vertebrae meant he was paralysed from the shoulders down. A long road to recovery began, supported diligently by his parents, three brothers and NHS staff, Henry needing to reconcile with the version of himself that existed before the incident and the person who he is now - each variant delivered exquisitely by different actors. Though most will not have experienced stories as extreme as the Fraser family, audiences are guaranteed to see familiarities to their own lives, the raw empathy simultaneously delivering an emotional gut punch and caring embrace.
Nick Butcher’s music firmly places the show in the pop-modern musical category, offering catchy numbers often equipped with ear-tingling harmonies. The NHS-inspired number ‘Work of Heart’ is particularly exceptional, generating worthy cheers from the audience, and the titular finale number will send you off into the night a little braver than when you arrived. With Nick Butcher and Tom Ling’s lyrics, each number feels inexplicably truthful, the essence of each character captured inside, ensuring their impact is all the more significant - ‘Miles and Miles’ and ‘One to Seventeen’ each effective tear jerkers.
A milestone in Henry’s recovery is his rediscovery of his love for art. An adapted iPad pencil sees him able to draw using his mouth - the paintings clearly his calling in this new life. His lengthy and restrictive stay in hospital brings him a new perspective of the world, particularly towards colour - this is wonderfully demonstrated through the lighting, video and scenic design. The stage forms a sort of canvas, its edges framed with wood and the floor a screen that nicely accompanies the story, moments of change accented by deep strokes of colour. The design extends to wirework that sees the two Henrys fly above the stage, a moving and poignant moment in the second act.
The narrative sees the two versions of Henry experiencing the recovery together, the post-accident version leading the way. Jonny Aimes is marvellous as the younger Henry, his innocence infectious and vocal ability stunning. Ed Larkin embodies the elder form equally well, the cheekiness remains, but there is a keen maturity and understanding to his performance that is captivating to watch. The production provides an impressive insight into modern and positive masculinity through Henry, his father and his brothers. Their rugby-lad behaviour melts into a deep trust and complex acknowledgement of the challenge they face, each buckling down and scrummaging together because that is the only way through.
Other notable performances come from Amy Trigg as the brazen Agnes, Henry’s physio and fellow wheelchair user. Trigg is wildly funny, brimming with the unstoppable combination of dry sarcasm and sheer belief in people. Early on, she shares a tender moment with Henry’s mum, Fran (Linzi Hateley), guiding her through the initial chaos beautifully. Hately and Alasdair Harvey (Henry’s dad) make for a mighty pair, their relationship and strength tested to their limits, each gifting powerful and heartbreaking performances.
Through this production @sohoplace has cemented itself as a fantastic addition to the West End - its accessible staging enabling a show like this to exist and to be seen. The authentic casting is vitally important to the truth of this story and without it, the show would be insincere and wrong. This is groundbreaking musical theatre as it should be, an utter triumph. Go and be moved by this show.
Running till 25th November - Tickets
Photography - Pamela Raith