The Bunker’s debut season in the Menier’s disused carpark-turned-theatre has been nothing short of triumphant. Isley Lynn’s Skin A Cat and Philip Ridley’s Tonight With Donny Stixx, transfers from VAULT Festival and Edinburgh respectively, are rounded out with new British rock musical, Muted. The story of a promising, young musician who stops speaking after a string of highly traumatic experiences is surprisingly complex with some great numbers – but the script gets lost within itself. There are a few too many subplots and surprises that crowd out the main storyline and dilute the power of the message of hope and recovery.
Lauren (Tori Allen-Martin) and Jake (Jos Slovick) are a young, urban couple with loaded pasts and the urge to help their friend Michael, who’s shut himself away in his uncle’s Bethnal Green house and refuses to speak after his mum’s sudden death. As Lauren tries to coax him to speak to her by recounting good memories, Michael is tormented by darker times. His younger self and mum are sporadically made flesh by Edd Campbell Bird and Helen Hobson, though the majority of the action is in the present. Emotions and personal history get the better everyone, causing inevitable conflict and heartbreak.
The trouble is that Sarah Henley’s book packs in too much, and true transformation is minimal and slow. Hurt feelings and arguments abound, but little is achieved from them. There are some genuine surprises, but amongst the tangle of plot lines, they lose their impact. Allen-Martin and Tim Protty-Jones’ music is generally strong, though there’s a handful of overly trite lyrics. Some of the tunes are too short and come to abrupt ends, but others are absolutely cracking.
Designer Sarah Beaton’s set is simple but a wonderful juxtaposition to the sticky web that entraps the characters. A swing hovers above a boxy platform containing a large island surrounded by water. All black and angular, the construction is a subtle metaphor that enhances symbolic but occasionally clunky choreography by Isla Jackson-Ritchie.
Though the performances take a bit of time to gather speed and the script doesn’t quite manage to come together seamlessly, the story Muted tells is full of heart and potential. The passion and commitment in the work is clear, and the characters are real flesh and blood. It’s not a big, showy American musical, but one that is distinctly and quietly British. With more development and dramaturgical support, Muted will really shine.
Muted runs through 7 January.
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