Saturday, 24 September 2016

Review Father Comes Back From The Wars


We at TLT Towers welcome Carolin Kopplin who brings continental spice to the TLT mix! Munich-born Carolin trained as a lawyer and dramaturge before living and working in the USA. She is now a writer and translator based in London and, of course, the newest recruit to the TLT team.

Father Comes Back From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)
by Suzan-Lori Parks 


Of Human Bondage
http://www.royalcourttheatre.com

A slave on a West Texas plantation called Hero and his personal odyssey through the American Civil War and its aftermath is the focus of Father Comes Back From The Wars. Pulizer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks combines elements of Greek drama with Homer's Odyssey and a philosophical debate on the concept of freedom in a powerful trilogy of plays.

In the first part, "A Measure Of A Man", set in 1862, Hero (Steve Toussaint) is faced with a dilemma. His master has promised to free him if Hero joins the Confederate army. But should he fight against the army that wants to abolish slavery in the South? Or should he maim himself to evade the military? And, even more importantly, will his master keep his promise?

Hero's wife, Penny, (Nadine Marshall) urges him to stay home. His father (Leo Wringer) and many of his fellow slaves, who also make him the subject of a wager, want him to go, not just because they will face severe punishment by the "boss-master" if Hero refuses.

The second part, "A Battle In The Wilderness", takes us on to the battlefield. The Colonel (John Stahl), Hero's master, has captured a Union soldier Smith (Tom Bateman) and keeps him locked up in a tiny wooden cage.

To pass the time, the Colonel plays his banjo and forces his prisoner to sing rebel songs. But Smith changes the lyrics, the Colonel loses interest and instead challenges him on his beliefs about freedom and slavery.

Parks also uses Hero and Smith to explore the materialist culture, ruled by the rich, where the slaves will never be free: "This mark of the market will always be on us." Smith urges Hero to desert and join the Union Army to fight for his freedom. To whom should Hero give his loyalty?

The final section, "The Union Of My Confederate Parts" sees Hero returning from the war and the parallels to The Odyssey become particularly striking. Hero has changed his name to Ulysses, after Commander-in-Chief Ulysses S Grant, and his wife Penny (Penelope from the Greek epic) has been fending off wooers in his absence.

The slaves have been sold off or died with only Penny or Homer (Jimmy Akingbola) remaining. Hero's talking cross-eyed dog Odd-See (Dex Lee) miraculously returns to fulfil the function of Messenger, reporting on Hero's journey and lightening the more sombre mood of this act.

Originally staged at the Public Theater in New York, director Jo Bonney's production now has an excellent British cast. Toussaint's Hero is an imposing presence, the archetype of a hero, yet seriously flawed. Marshall portrays Penny with strength and vulnerability. Akingbola impresses as the rebellious Homer, whose foot was cut off after he tried to run away. Bateman gives a forceful performance as Smith.

Although over three hours' long, this skilfully directed, intriguing work never has a dull moment. Neil Patel's atmospheric set and Steven Bargonetti's bluesy music transport us straight to the American south.

Writer Parks sets the bar high in the first three of nine planned plays, employing ancient forms to tell a still very relevant story. It's a green light for a trilogy uncovering how the precarious position for African-Americans during the long-past Civil War still resonates today.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Review Good Canary


Good Canary
by Zach Helm

Imitation Of Life
https://www.rosetheatrekingston.org/

Hollywood comes to Kingston Upon Thames with publicity justifiably headlining "John Malkovich Directs" in UPPER CASE above the title of the play, Good Canary. Although we should add the two leads, Skins' Freya Mavor and Harry Lloyd each get a photo and equal size lettering.

But then again, this play by Zach Helm (he gets equal size lettering below the title) has been pet project of the Hollywood star for some time. It was first performed in a French translation at the Théâtre Comedia in Paris and then, in Spanish, as El Buen Canaria at Mexico City's Teatro de los Insurgentes.

Now the Rose Theatre hosts the English language world première. Writer Jack (Lloyd) suddenly achieves the overnight fame dreamt of by many an aspiring novelist. After a glowing review by critic Mulholland (an acerbic Simon Wilson), Jack's gritty (and read for that, pretty filthy) novel shoots to top of the bestseller list.

But, in the opinion of the New York literati, his new best friends, Jack comes with baggage. Annie (Mavor), Jack's wife, is the centre of his life but she is also a bulimic junkie, hooked on amphetimines with a tendency to slice through the chauvinist small talk at deal-making dinner parties with a mixture of insight and violent insults - or rather, violent insults and insight in that order.

This is indeed a slickly directed play with Mavor giving a tour-de-force performance in a role not unlike that of Denise Gough in People, Places & Things. Lloyd as Jack manages the tricky balance as the supportive husband and ambitious career-climber. It is he who gives her the caged yellow canary (a live one on stage!) of the play's title.

The canary, we are told through words projected on the backdrop at the beginning, was used by miners to warn if the air was filling with toxic gases. However, by the end of the play, when the canary appears to have fluttered away, we weren't quite sure what exactly this signified, although we had a rough idea that Annie was equated to the caged bird.

The set by Pierre-François Limbosch is inventive and sets up its own visual discussion on the clichéd relationship of art and a tormented life. There is a clever use of projections and the backdrop is brushed with painterly daubs. Equally, there is an evocation of at least one famously anguished painting.

A café with adjacent road in New York, seen in different scenes from outside and inside, has a resemblance to Montmartre's paintings for tourists. Characters exit scenes stepping out of frames or slip out as if between the canvases of two paintings. At one point, a publisher's office and the couple's sparsely furnished apartment even slide together to resemble the archetypal poverty-stricken artist's garret.

Yet this, with the music by Nicolas Errèra and sound design by Jon Nicholls, somehow still serves to emphasize the cinematic nature of the script. We couldn't help thinking this was a movie that was never made. There's an attempt to make a virtue out of this - the use of surtitles instead of speech signifies the start of a slide into predominantly visual melodrama reminiscent of silent movies.

Sylvia (Sally Rogers), the wife of the wealthy publisher out to lure Jack into his publishing house, feels like a character which would benefit from being in a movie rather than a stage version, especially with scenes split between two rooms and groups of characters.

There is also a subtle time mash up feel. Publisher Charlie (a strikingly charismatic performance by Shepherd) could have stepped out of the 1960s. Drug dealer Jeff (Ilan Goodman combining shambling geniality and a belief he's in business rather than a criminal enterprise) could be from a 1980s' police procedural.

The dialogue of the wealthier publisher Stuart (marvellously glib Michael Simkins) apparently with the money for a lucrative advance and critic Mulholland has the feel of pre-internet unguarded comment.

We did sense, however, particularly when Stuart, having admitted that he'd not read Jack's novel, later proudly announces he has read Chapter 7 (ambiguous in the USA with its meaning of insolvency) that there might be another hidden plot to the Good Canary.

So all in all, it's well directed and acted, even if the script leaves a few too many question marks. We're still not sure what happened to that cute little bird, but TLT and her sidekick in their own cheep and cheerful way award a canary-coloured amber light for an evening with plenty of highlights.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Review No Man's Land


No Man's Land
by Harold Pinter

The Batting Order
http://www.nomanslandtheplay.com/

After the first performance of Harold Pinter's absurdist No Man's Land back in the Cold War days of 1975, the Times critic Irving Wardle said it was "... palpably the work of our best living poet in its command of language and its power to errect a coherent structure in a twilight zone of confusion and dismay."

We did not personally mine this quote from the esteemed Mr Wardle but owe its excavation to the programme introduction of director Sean Mathias's current production, which also doffs its cap to a quote from the equally esteemed Mr Billington from that time, 'a mixture of "admiration, respect and bewilderment". Ah, those heady days, when print was king and the word blog would have been viewed as some kind of unforgiveable newspaper misprint!

All of which is to say that No Man's Land, we would be presumptuous enough to believe, is very much a product of its time, a class system, a literary and Oxbridge hierachy. It's still got heft and bite. However it's a slow burner for current audiences, now when surreal humour and intricate power play has entered mainstream television and internet.

Step into the breach, Sir Patrick Stewart as eminent man of letters, Hirst, and Sir Ian McKellen as Spooner, a dishevelled lesser poet. Spooner enters the twilight zone, after a chance encounter on Hampstead Heath - ho, hum - and an invitation back for one - or several - drinks.

The twilight zone turns out to be a huge circular domed drinking room with panelled walls, designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis, within Hirst's North London abode. Up above we see the the night outline of tree tops against the transparent roof. Strangely it reminded us of a space ship come to earth in what seems to be Hampstead. Perhaps not unusual though for some individually commissioned Hampstead architecture of the time. The room almost empty in its luxury,  aside from a padded leather chair and some other sparse furnishings.

The two trade stories and memories. Yet we are never sure about them. Are they true recollections coloured by one-upmanship? Spooner, apparently reduced to collecting glasses in a pub for a pittance, could be desperate to keep his own end up with a university contemporary. Or he could be exercising literary skills, with a liberal amount of dirty mindedness, in a competitive manner, somewhat reminiscent, it seemed to us, of Jean Genet's "The Maids".

There's a rhythmic, musical feel as the lines jump back and forth between the pair of elderly gents as part of their mind games and twilight zone competition. But it's not just a two hander.

Spooner, after leaving behind rivalry with Hirst for the possibility of a position in his household, suddenly finds different competition. It appears in the shape of Hirst's male secretary or "amanuensis", John "Jack" Foster (Damien Molony) and manservant cum bodyguard Briggs (Owen Teale) and a whole new generation of posturing.

Pinter used the names of cricketers for his characters, carefully picked. Hirst a Yorkshire cricketer, a "player" rather than a "gentleman" who first worked as a weaver and in a dyeing firm before becoming known for cricket and his swing bowling. Spooner, a public school-educated Lancashire man and celebrated for his batting prowess. Foster, another public schoolboy, England captain and middle order batsman. Finally Briggs, a professional cricketer and noted spin bowler, who crossed over from Yorkshire to Lancashire.

So we may gasp and be left bewildered at the foresight of Harold Pinter using the word "Google" in his script. However, a passing knowledge of cricket's googly will make this an accidental glimpse of future technology. Continuing this glossary, we should add that, less cryptically, Jack Straw's Castle was then a listed pub (now luxury apartments since 2002 closure), not some citadel of a future and somewhat controversial Home, Foreign and Justice Secretary.

Just to let you gen up before you go - for you surely will go, like us, to see two legends of British acting at full throttle in a classic play, matched with Game Of Throne's Teale as Briggs and Molony as Foster. The latter is all set to step into the literary shoes of Hirst - if Spooner does not hinder his plans. 
      
The lines are thrown like skilfully bowled cricket balls and equally skilfully batted away. We still feel The Caretaker, Betrayal, The Dumb Waiter (the three Pinter plays we have previously seen) are more accessible. Yet there's an undoubted power to the twilight zone of No Man's Land.

Written at a moment when the reach of literary magazines, funded by who knows what or who, the left or right wing Oxbridge set was on the cusp of the wane. And a Hackney lad, the son of a Jewish ladies' tailor and a housewife, a cricket fanatic, could eventually be thought of as a modern Shakespeare.

It's an upper range amber light from TLT and her own motorised amanuensis for an occasion they wouldn't have missed, even for the complete editions of Wisden.     

Review Torn


Torn
by Nathaniel Martello-White

The Broken Branch
http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/

Another play about a family tree cracking and snapping but this time the roots of the familial problems go deeper than First World Problems in Nathaniel Martello-White's Torn directed by Richard Twyman in the Jerwood Theatre upstairs at the Royal Court.

We enter what appears to be an institutional room with wooden floor, moulded plastic grey plastic chairs for the audience in a round - a few raised up at the back like bar chairs, the only concession, along with lighting and sound, to the theatrical space designed by Ultz. 

Already in the room is Angel (Adelle Leonce) who converses with the audience, helps herself to a drink from the tea urn on a table in one corner. So Angel is aware that people are watching as she draws out chairs for the family members, we are about to learn, she has drawn together. But for what?

Maybe at first it seems like a showdown - we know from Angel's first anouncement to us, something bad happened - but after a while, it seems that even Angel does not even know why she has brought the eight family members together and what she expects. Except she knows, we have seen this at the beginning of course, she is showing us.

Although the family at first trickle in with few words, just uncertainty as to why they have been called together, the trickle of words soon turns into a deluge. The audience has to adjust to the criss-crossing conversations and rising cadences as emotions boil up and over.

At one point an analogy to a flock of  birds of prey becomes explicit and it seems this is how the play is structured. The lone one at first and gradually more and more flock in and greet and peck at each other.

And they are dangerous issues to peck at: the consequences of mixed race, yes, harking back to past slavery but also feeding into current issues. Slave owning and present day debt collection merge together with child abuse emerging from both.

At just over ninety minutes, the story shifts and turns around fractured family and time lines. It's a hard ask for an audience to concentrate intently all the time and there are moments when the action seems to sag into too much intricacy, shouting matches and huge-eyed Angel can only be static, standing apart as a bystander.

Yet a story with many layers over time and space does emerge of a child torn from the mainstream of her family by past and present economics, a family pitted against itself and manipulated in spite of itself by a criminal stepfather. It's not perfect as we've indicated but stand out performances do emerge from Leonce as Angel, her mother known only as Twin 1, Indra Ové, Roger Griffiths as Angel's father Brian, Kirsty Bushell as both fairer Aunty J and white Irish Nanny and James Hillier as stepfather Steve.

Director Twyman with lighting by Charles Balfour and sound by Gareth Fry keep up the pace  and it's an amber/green TLT light for this difficult but rewarding play.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Review Things I Know To Be True


Things I Know To Be True
by Andrew Bovell

Never Promised You A Rose Garden
http://www.lyric.co.uk/

Somewhere in the suburbs of Adelaide live the Price family.  Father Bob (Ewan Stewart) tends his garden complete with manicured rose bushes, years after taking redundancy from a car factory. Mum Fran (Imogen Stubbs) now wears the earning trousers, working as a nurse at the local hospital while keeping the household together.

Meanwhile the four grown-up kids are spreading their wings in tentative flight with varying degrees of success. The youngest Rosie (Kirsty Oswald) sets off alone on a gap year in Europe, ending up in Berlin only to have her heart broken, her Euros stolen and to be ordered out of the house where a night of passion turns out to be a defeat and soulless trickery.

The expectations of Pip (Natalie Casey) sour and she hardens herself, ambitious in her work and love life, willing to leave her husband and, temporarily, her kids for a new job and lover in Vancouver.

The two sons are drawn with less detail. Tender Mark (Matthew Barker), an adored brother is ready to make a momentous change in his life. Shiny-suited wide-boy accountant Ben (Richard Mylan) is determined to compete and party with his colleagues before discovering he will be offered up as a token sacrifice by them when things go wrong.

Originally premiered in Adelaide in May this year (2016), the actors in the London staging co-directed by Geordie Brookman and Scott Graham, keep their English accents. This reminded us somewhat of at least one fairly recent production of Our Town which worked well. But in this case, we're not so sure.

Nevertheless Imogen Stubbs is outstanding as the family matriarch bluff, northern Fran, even if the script sometimes slightly jars making her more male than Stewart's more gentle, seemingly solitary father Bob, a gardener with his wheelbarrow, eventually in vain, laying out the boundaries in a medieval rose garden.

While it was written earlier than the vote, this felt for us something of a Brexit Commonwealth tale. Rosie is robbed of her heart and Euros in Berlin and has to return to her family. Pip ends up in Vancouver with a question mark over the future of her children.

Mark seems to only have one story line and we never learn his trade or profession but he advises his sometimes unwittingly crass parents to learn about his choice in life through books and websites. Ben's story is really intriguing - maybe this is why it feels pushed down in this production but never followed through with its implications for his trade, his fate and his family's future seemingly bound into extra-judiciaial financial servitude for what he has done.

The whole is polished, with fluid staging (set and lighting by Geoff Cobham with music by Nils Frahm) and choreography to reflect mental states and change the pace. Even so, the piece felt hugely influenced by recent TV family dramas such as Transparent with its different threads on family members. 

In its effort to be global, on stage at least, something appears to be lost. There are times when, like some rebellious family member, we even felt resentful we were somehow being subjected to a gentle but insistent  indoctrination in "Things I Know To Be True" which made us more obstinate in our analysis rather than eveloping us in the story. 

There's a lot to admire - Natalie Casey and Ewan Stewart especially match Stubbs' powerhouse performance in their own ways - and  some of the audience around us were wiping away tears by the end. However, it left us unaffected and, while technically superb, it's an amber light.

PS However we can't resist reference to a 1970s' country and western crossover classic which sprang to mind and seems fiting for this piece. .

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Review Jess and Joe Forever


Jess and Joe Forever
by Zoe Cooper

A Rural Gavotte

Once TLT lived in a one-horse village (the horse belonged to someone else). There was a pub, a few residential roads, the overgrown tracks  of disused ralway lines axed by the Beeching cuts and a bridge from which the  occasional de-nested fledgling used to fall which she tried to nurse back to health. 

You had to climb over several stiles through fields of sheep or cows - according to the season - to reach the next village. Here was the church, the post office cum shop and the primary school, so small two years were put together in one classroom (Old fogyishly she declares: "it never did us any harm!" ;))  So we felt amply qualified for Jess and Joe Forever, set in a Norfolk village.

Except of course in TLT's past house prices hardly moved,  credit was scarcely discussed and  banks were for the monthly salaries of parents (mostly fathers) or for businesses. Secondary schools were the big town secondary modern or the two single-sex public schools. The latter were kept afloat by fees which the armed forces paid outright for the children of the military and the local authority's payments for local kids like yours truly who passed the eleven plus. 

Joe is a scrawny motherless farmer's son, while Jess is a "townie" whose parents have a holiday home in the unnamed hamlet, a villa on Lake Garda and a live-in nanny for their plump, good-natured daughter.

In some ways, this is a play which touches on the new class system: the self-conscious Jess knowing but not quite understanding why she is better travelled, has an Eastern European nanny and why her boarding school is viewed as a superior sort of establishment.
  
Meanwhile Joe has a secret, revealed late in the hour long play which makes him less rash, more reserved and watchful than Jess who is a little girl eager to please and impress and a tad lonely. She is almost like some over-eager playwright or screenwriter, for even at nine (and three quarters), she knows the term "inciting incident".

Indeed it struck your apple-cheeked theatregoing duo that this little tale of class, nature, changing seasons, prejudice,  literature and economic downturns might work very well as a movie. Rooted in Norfolk, but surely equally at home in Florida or the deep south of America?

Like a lot of new writing nowadays, it has a slightly studied but pleasingly rhythmic script self-consciously threaded with Ovidian and novelistic references. Yet it also allows for charming, well-paced performances, as the protagonists awkwardly dance verbally around each other - Nicola Coughlan as blonde Jess and Rhys Isaac-Jones as dark and thoughtful Joe.

It's precisely paced by director Derek Bond on James Perkins' formal pastel grey, green and yellow chequer board set, heaped with untidy earth from the almost-opening scene as Joe digs cattle troughs interrupted by the curious, friendly Jess.

The scenes over the years are delineated by a rather self-conscious clicking of fingers and flash of lights. We are introduced into the geography of the village. At its centre the church with the lacuna, left by a vicar dealing with more than one parish, filled by those in the vilage who feel qualified to be lay preachers and provide the village's moral compass.

Meanwhile the children's lives seem to be mapped out by their education - Jess to a fee-paying boarding school, while Joe's position appears more nebulous. 

There is at least one glimpse of an above-average intelligence but a rather more puzzling reference to more mundane school affairs which makes him seem a unique pupil - the reasons for which are eventually revealed.

Jess and Joe Forever is a likeable jigsaw of a play with strong central performances. The writing could afford to relax a little, over intent sometimes on breaking the fourth wall. 

Nevertheless the sensitive production and the script's appealing grace attracts an amber/green light from your yeoman theatre reviewer TLT and her little automotive sidekick ploughing the theatrical furrows.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Review A Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur


Francis Beckett bathes in the nostalgia and delusion of a late Tennessee Williams' play set in America's deep south and is equally beguiled by the historic Coronet Theatre. 


A Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur
by Tennessee Williams

Beer And Skittishness

The Print Room at The Coronet is one of those places which tell you that there is still hope for London. Even  without the full refurbishment it deserves, it is magnificent. 

Arriving for a performance of the 1970s' Tennessee Williams' play A Lovely Sunday At Creve Coeur,  I started in the bar, standing with producer Veronica Humphris on a fiercely sloping floor surrounded by walls in a deep shade of red, huge and ornate doors, and eccentric wall hangings. 

She told me about plans to restore it to its former glory, if the money can be found. The theatre had a  distinguished early career after its opening in 1898, graced by the likes of Ellen Terry and Sarah Bernhardt.

It became a cinema in 1923, then narrowly escaped closure and conversion into a McDonaldshamburger joint  An energetic campaign saved it for theatre and, while it now has smaller scale performance spaces run by a charity, it's still a wonderful temporary compromise.

At this performance the great red columns of the original theatre merge seamlessly into the red walls of a beautiful and meticulous set (designer: Fotini Dimou.) for the one-act drama set in Missouri directed by Michael Oakley.

We are in a small apartment in 1930s' St Louis, shared by the lovely Dorothea, who is desperate for a husband, and the frumpy Bodey, who has given up hopes of a husband and is desperate for nephews and nieces.

Dorothea is a fragile Southern Belle, not unlike Tennessee Williams’s more famous Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, is in love with a man whom we are sure (correctly) from the start will turn out to be a scoundrel . 

She exercises furiously in an effort to maintain her allure. On her the evening turns, and she is brought to magnificent and entirely believable life by Laura Rogers, who will be the fittest woman in London by the end of the run.

Debbie Chazen as Bodey offers exactly the right mix of resignation and disappointment, hope and kindness. Hermione Gulliford is excellent as the scheming, manipulative Helena, who threatens to disrupt their lives, and there is a nice cameo of demented neighbour, Miss Gluck, from Julia Watson.

Yet the character who came to life most strongly for me was a character we never meet, Bodey’s brother Buddy. Bodey and Buddy are of German ancestry. Both are overweight, but Buddy encourages his expanding girth with plentiful daily supplies of beer and bratwurst, while he indulges a cigar smoking habit.   

He appears to be a solid citizen, not just physically, and, encouraged by his sister, he has set his sights on getting Dorothea to share his life. Having reduced  his daily beer intake, he vows to cut it down even further.    

But one suspects that this is more his sister’s project than Buddy’s own, and it is her dreams of nephews and nieces she can nurture which will really be shattered if it does not come off.  At the end, it looks as though it might come off, and the author seems rather to approve of this outcome; I beg to disagree with the author.

The play is a little predictable, but we quickly learn to care about what happens to Dorothea and Bodey.  It does not offer the emotional charge of Tennessee Wiliams’s more famous work, but it has a charm and humour which they lack.  It’s a good evening in the theatre; a green light from me.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

27: The Rise Of A Falling Star


27 : The Rise Of A Falling Star
Music, Book and Lyrics by Sam Cassidy
Music by Matt Willis

Out, Out Damn Spotlight
http://thecockpit.org.uk/show/27

27, a new musical by a 20 something writing team of Sam Cassidy and Matt Willis, follows a now traditional route. Jason and the Argonauts is a rock combo making the rounds of the music world looking for a contract, fame and fortune. Made up of Gerry (Ryan Gibb), aka Jason, Max (Jack Donnelly) and lead singer and lyricist Jimmy (Greg Oliver) who calls himself Orpheus.

The title gives away the strength and flaws of this piece. 27, fine. The 27 (year old) club underlined by a foyer gallery of rock stars who died thrown into the excesses of the rock 'n roll world. But then someone had to add "The Rise Of A Falling Star". Ho, hum.

Nevertheless,  it's directed with a pleasing fluency by founder of  Hot Gossip and former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips and the writer Sam Cassidy and unsurprisingly has some great silhouettes and dance routines (choreography Ryan-Lee Seager and Lucy Martin). This is still a raw and rough musical with a sometimes clumsy script that needs scything and perhaps the addition of a few more songs. But it's not a series of sketches - there is a strong, archetypal story at its core with energy and touches of humour, even if it needs more work.

It's a well-worn tale - the meteoric rise of a lead singer (Oliver, who viscerally manages to layer an amalgam of recogniable lead singers on top of Jimmy's personality) who after signing with a label, has his talent smothered by drugs on demand and neglects his first love (a superb Cassie Compton making the most of an underwritten role) until ... Well, we've got the real life stories of Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix and Amy Winehouse exhibited in the foyer and in the media and coroner's courts archives to give a clue to the trajectory. But there's the potential to spike the story with a few real details juxtaposed with the clichés.

Yep, because in this case, an age-old simplified story does almost work. The sound levels of the first act left something to be desired, a lot of the linking dialogue is heavy handed. It's almost certainly been over-workshopped with bits of story grabbed from the current theatrical roundabout. It also needs cleverer structuring, especially to make the ending with the Blood Brothers-style song Hardest Happy Ending seem less of a bathetic postscript.

But there's almost a wisdom in this musical which goes beyond the years of the creators. Yes, the dialogue is clunky. But it also brings out the callowness and boyishness of Jimmy aka Orpheus and if it were more honed, it would massively raise the soundness of the story.

The songs (once the mic levels settled down) for the most part push the story forward. There are also a few lines in the links which beg to be songs and there's the possibility of a quicker moving  sung-through script. While the TV interview at the end is cheesey, there's real potential for a more collage effect of video, talking heads, the process of real lives metamorphisized into cliché.

The set, metal girders on several levels, works well. The lighting sometimes seems outsize for the venue but, all designed by Nick Eve,  gives a taste of what could be achieved on a bigger stage, along with the different colour filters. 

OK at the moment it feels as if  nearly every musical theatre team on, at least, the London circuit is doing The Faustian Rag.  But there's a neat subversion here with the impressario Hades (an equally strong Ryan Molloy)  which makes it far more psychologically convincing, even if the Orpheus tale feels more integrated. The use of a Macbeth thread through the piece does add depth but  could do with more consideration - the three female fates cum witches (powerful if over-miked performances by Maisey Bawden, Eloise Davies and Jodie Jacobs) would maybe work better if they doubled eventually as characters outside the supernatural world.

And the Shakespeare story could bolster up the underwritten roles of the fellow group members, Gerry and Max, and especially girlfriend Amy whose sudden life U-turn feels totally implausible.   

But the single-mindedness of a star making engine where the group and its lead becomes a product which Ms M (a viperously sexy Lucy Martin) delivers to the business is a shorthand for the industry's shenanigans which has the intended effect.

So this is very much a musical-in-progress but it certainly has potential for a large scale production with spectacular special effects as long as the believability of the story which beats at its heart is retained. At the moment it's an amber (star) light from your own independent label theatre reviewer and her moderately heavy metal automotive groupie.