Best of Friends, which is slated to run at The Landor in Clapham until 10th May, was due to have hit The Arts Theatre in the heart of the West End last year, starring Darren Day, and then titled The Golden Voice. Quite something is made in the press release about the funding having fallen through at the last minute. It might just have been a blessing in disguise.
It’s difficult to know where to begin with the actual material, so perhaps I’ll start on the positives…
The show has a sparky cast – marred only by the presence of the author, who is not, I think it’s fair to say, a natural actor.
In what I take to have been the Darren Day part, is Aidan O’Neill who fills the role admirably, and with a great deal of charm. His natural rapport with the audience is obvious, and his extremely likeable all-round demeanour makes probably a better cut of the material than would have been got with Day.
The leading lady – see below – the almost Dickensian sounding Rosie Glossop as Natalie Jones, has one hell of a voice, and knows how to use it. All the singers are un-miked and she more than any other fills the space with her impressive vocal control. I wonder why we don’t see more of her in the theatre. Agents and casting directors take note.
The young love interest is provided by the likeable Alex James Ellison as Taylor Jones, who has a sweet pop tenor and seems to have stepped straight off the set of Skins, and Sarah Goggin – another of those Dickensians – as Jodie Stevensen, though I’m not sure if she has a cold or is suffering, like me, from the bizarre overuse of a fog machine in almost every scene of the show.
Serena Giacomini as Lilly Star and Dean Kilford as Victor/Compare round off the cast, Dean getting the biggest laugh of the evening with his ‘air-conditioning-cleaning-tool’…
The direction isn’t Robert McWhir’s best, but is probably the best that he could be done with the material on offer, and Tom Turner’s musical directorship from the keyboard keeps everything flowing along nicely. The set is suggested with various equipment boxes, and the odd prop, but that’s enough, and the whole thing is rounded off with a slightly over-elaborate lighting plot, but it doesn’t detract from the show.
So, I hear you ask, where’s the problem? Well, much though I keep coming back to it, it starts with those three basic old questions. Whose story is it? What do they want? What’s stopping them from getting it?
We have an unlikeable protagonist (Mike Chariot) with a large ego who does the dirty on his best friend (Jim) in order to get onto a talent show (think X-Factor). He gets fame and fortune, and surprise, surprise finds it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
The long-suffering friend and band-member, Jim, on whom Chariot does the dirty rather implausibly ends up mixing with the Krays, which does rather stretch credibility, though raises a titter as well as an eyebrow or two.
Fast forward twenty years, and there’s some hokum about the ownership of a youth club, and Chariot’s desire to make sure the young singers of today aren’t done-over by the music business like what he was. You’d have to be blind not to see this as autobiographical…
Anyway, the rather soap-opera-like life of everybody in the show bumps up very implausibly at the end with the gun-toting criminal underworld of put-upon friend Jim, who…well, I won’t spoil the whole plot for you…
The music is pleasant, though un-dramatic. The score is essentially an album’s worth or pop-fodder, but doesn’t rise from that to the theatre music which it needs to be. None of the songs forwards the plot noticeably. Technically there are 17 ‘charm’ songs, and that’s it, which makes for a very boring score.
All in all there wasn’t anyone I felt any empathy or emotional engagement with, and as not one of the characters had anything approaching a satisfactory character arc, there was no dramatic tension to speak of.
In the programme Nick Fogarty says he’s been working on the show for eight years. (Quote) ‘Now he knows its (sic) ready to be seen by any lover of great musicals.’
Nick, everything starts with the book, and having a proper structure in place. I’m afraid to say on the evidence of what I saw tonight,Best of Friends still has a long way to go.