There are occasionally evenings in the theatre when you know, just by walking through the door into the auditorium, that you’re in for a good time. The atmosphere is electric with anticipation, the very air around you seems to crackle with the delight of what’s to come.
By some sad cosmic Karma, there are also those evening when you walk through from the foyer into the performance space, and your heart gives an involuntary shudder at what is laid out before you.
I fear that’s how it was on entering the traverse stage of The Cockpit Theatre where Another Way – the Musical is currently playing, where as an audience member, still clutching programme, drink, and bag, and heavy laden with umbrella and coat against the hostile September weather, we were corralled, or rather kettled into a rough boxing-ring created of a piece of hazard tape held up by an actor at each corner.
The music starts. The living corner-posts begin to sing, repeating the same simple phrase over and over. The tapes fall, and there is a mad rush to get a seat trying not to stab anyone with an umbrella, or pour my drink over them. I’d like to be able to relate what happened in the first ten minutes of the show, but to be honest I was so thrown by this ill-judged and awkward start, and by the business of turning off phones, removing the outer layers of clothing without decapitating the person in front, and generally making myself ready for the evenings’ entertainment that I’m unable to.
If there is ‘another way’ to start a show successfully, this isn’t it.
It turns out though that it’s not too much of a hindrance as the show, when it does start, is pretty standard fare, though isn’t the musical it’s billed as.
Three sets of couples are all looking for ‘another way’ to proceed with life.
There is the 23 year old Oliver, played by Andy Coxon, whose bedroom is awash with Marvel Super Hero toys, and CD’s, who draws graphic novels, and falls for an older woman, Carrie, played by Julie Atherton.
Oliver is also somehow a web designer, and creates a site for two friends, Toby and Sam, played by Bart Edwards and Aiden Crawford. They’re wrestling with the duality of how to make money whilst staying true to their artistic principles.
Sam has a sister Vivien, played by Ria Cherelle Horsford, who is going out with a guy, Alex played by Matthew Collyer, who has testicular cancer and issues of committing to anything which might have a timescale longer than the horizon of his chemotherapy.
This is the young funky world of Jonathan Larson’s Rent. But whereas that show, for all its failings, deals with big issues on a massive canvas that we can all care about, Another Way feels inward looking and parochial. We aren’t given any insight up front into why the characters want what they want, they just do. As a result we know neither who the protagonist is, nor why it is that we should care about them. These are just a group of people to whom stuff happens. And the stuff that does happen is actually rather too predictable and selfish to be particularly engaging.
The dialogue is chatty, and sometimes funny, but the stories have no real point. What little action there is would have been overstretched at forty minutes, and certainly isn’t sufficient to carry the 90 minute single act for which this show runs.
As I stated above, Another Way though billed as a musical, is actually a play with some songs interpolated, and I was left with the nagging feeling that they could have been taken out again just as easily without affecting the show. They certainly don’t forward the plot. Overall the music is like a whitewash of underscoring, achieving mood, but to no end.
To be fair it does look as if the songs weren’t written especially for the show, but were rather the work of someone called simply ‘Benedict’. That their lyrics could charitably be described as banal is probably down to the composers’ youth – we are told that he is only twenty – but the jarring of mis-rhymed lyrics (Hearts/Past, Time/Mine etc.) doesn’t help his case.
Overall, there are some interesting performances, not least of which the genuinely likable Aiden Crawford as Sam, and Bart Edwards as the priapic Toby, but you leave with the distinct impression that the cast are knocking their socks off with material that in the end just isn’t worth all the bother.