Disclaimer: due to TfL journey planner buggery I arrived at the theatre, the ACT at Kingston College in deepest, darkest zone 6, about ten minutes into the show. Fortunately, I only missed exposition that was covered as the story continued.
Keith (Jack Welch) and Nat (Shauna Riley) have been together for a while now. Their relationship has stagnated, as has Keith’s writing career. Nat’s had enough. They’re both chronically unhappy. The final straw as Keith’s radio breaking, but out of the static arrives weird and wonderful singing therapist Quentin Dentin (Henry Carpenter), and his two Friends (Caldy Walton and Ella Donaldson). Cloaked in white with matching hair, Quentin is a Christ-like figure there to save Nat and Keith’s relationship and to make them happy again.
Of course, this is all rather creepy and surreal. The story takes a turn to a darker side as the couple’s treatments prove ineffective. Production company Slick Rat state that one of the primary influences on the show is The Rocky Horror Picture Show; Quentin has similar qualities to Frank N. Furter, and the couple are a rather more street-wise, contemporary Brad and Janet who go along with the strange man that appeared out of their radio with little question. Musically, the songs have a 1970’s glam rock vibe and Quentin also looks a bit like David Bowie. In summary, the title role is a Frank N. Furter/Jesus/David Bowie hybrid in a new rock musical. What’s not to like?
Not much, actually. Though this is a new musical by a young company, a long development period and support from places such as Rich Mix and The National Theatre Studio have helped Slick Rat shape their idea into a quirky little show with potential.
There are still some issues that should be looked at, such as clichéd lyrics (“Swim with the fishes/all that glitters is gold”) and an abrupt ending. Not that it necessarily needs to be positive, but it’s quite vague in its current form. The transitions into the songs are similarly abrupt, but all that is needed to correct this would be more lead-in music and/or dialogue that echoes the coming lyrics. Even though I missed to beginning exposition, is ten minutes of a one-hour show too much of an introduction?
The performances are good, particularly from Donaldson, Walton and Riley (Friends and Nat). Quentin could use an injection of charisma to avoid him becoming too creepy, but this could also be addressed in the writing. Similarly, Keith could do with more external artistic angst, frustration and clear isolation from the rest of the world. The music is fun and the premise both entertaining and thought-provoking: are we allowing society to dictate that we must be happy all the time? Are we too enamoured of miracle cures? What role does religion play in this?
This one-act could nicely develop into a more complex story with the addition of more characters and songs without losing its message. It has a distinctive musical style that manages to not muddy from all its influences. It would certainly benefit from the addition of a bigger budget, good design and a whole band rather than the sole onstage guitarist. In its current state, it captures the innovation and spirit of fringe theatre and admirably contributes to new British musicals, an area sorely underdeveloped in favour of revivals and American imports. It’s worth catching at Edinburgh Fringe, particularly for those interested in new musical theatre.
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