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Posts Tagged ‘David Sheilds’

I was very fond of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel. It seemed to me to be quintessentially British, so I was disappointed when it was relocated from North London to Chicago for the 2000 film. Though this musical adaptation retained its US setting for it’s Broadway premiere in 2006, it’s relocated back to London N7 for it’s UK premiere, though it is being staged south of the river!

The story of Rob, the nerdy record shop owner, and his love life felt retro at the time of the book and film, but seems even more retro today. This adaptation distills it into the tale of Rob and current girlfriend Laura, with nods to the lives of shop hangers-on Dick and Barry, and the music scene and record collector obsessions as a backdrop. There are song lists for things like break-ups and mixtapes with strict rules. Rob’s ex’s make regular appearances in a large number of flashbacks and fantasy & dream sequences.

Tom Kitt’s eclectic score has particularly good lyrics by Amanda Green and it’s extremely well played by Paul Schofield’s band (members uncredited, sadly) and very well sung by the whole cast. David Shields excellent design makes great use of the small space, with clever transformations from shop to flat and more. It’s an impressive musical theatre directorial debut from Tom Jackson Greaves whose choreographic experience shines through, and I liked his use of the space in front of the stage and the aisle. Oliver Ormson and Shanay Holmes are both very good as Rob and Laura and there’s a fine ensemble, with great cameos from Robert Tripolino as Ian, Carl Au as Dick and Robbie Durham as Barry. We even get turns from Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen (Joshua Dever)!

With all the to-ing and fro-ing across the Atlantic, it does appear to have lost its sense of place and time and become a bit of an indeterminate transatlantic anywhere, anytime. David Lindsay-Abaire’s American book has been adapted for London by Vikki Stone and it might be this, and the vanilla pop-rock musical styles, which contribute most to the loss of some of Nick Hornby’s charming source. I think it’s a very good production of an OK show. It doesn’t feel like a Broadway show and I can see why it was curtailed after 18 previews and 13 post-press performances (and why its taken 13 years to get here). I suspect it fares much better on this scale, more intimate, with a talented and enthusiastic young cast, and I was glad I caught it.

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This 1995 play by Jonathan Harvey somehow passed me by when it was first staged at the Donmar, despite the fact he’d been on my radar since the first outing of Beautiful Thing, his most enduring play, a couple of years earlier, so this revival at Above the Stag (which isn’t any more) was a good opportunity to catch up with it.

Liverpudlian brothers Shaun and Marti, ten years apart, had until recently been estranged for seven years, since Shaun, the younger of the two, was sixteen in fact. Until then they had been very close, Marti a surrogate dad. We eventually learn the reason for the estrangement. They both now live in London and the play takes place in the bedsitter Shaun shares with his girlfriend Juliet, currently away at her dad’s funeral in Barbados. Shaun has a mobile hairdressing business and Marti sells stretch covers, reverse stereotypes given Marti is gay. The other characters are English teacher George (girl) downstairs, on the rebound from ex Malcolm, who clearly fancies Shaun, mad-as-a-hatter Clarine / Zoe / Sharon upstairs and Dean / Fifi, Marti’s trans friend whose love is also unrequited.

All of these relationships play out in the one room, superbly designed by David Sheilds, in an intimate traverse staging by Steven Dexter which is at times a touch melodramatic but enthralling nonetheless. Harvey’s characters sometimes veer towards caricatures, but they are well drawn and here very well performed by Tom Whittaker and Hal Geller as the younger and older brothers, Phoebe Vigor and Amy Dunn, upstairs and downstairs respectively, and Myles Devonte as Dean.

This was my first visit to Above the Stag’s plush new under-the-railway space, much better than their two previous homes.

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