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The Other Palace

There’s an article in the programme for Eugenius! (note the hilarious exclamation mark!) the 1980’s-set pastiche soft-rock musical that has opened at The Other Palace, seeking, without irony, to declare that’s it is a ‘cult’ musical in the same vein as The Rocky Horror Show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Little Shop of Horrors.

It put me immediately in mind of the retort by Senator Lloyd Bentson to Dan Quayle after the latter had compared himself to President Kennedy… ‘I knew Jack Kennedy… Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy….’

Neither, I’m afraid, is this show in the same league as even the worst of the three shows quoted. Don’t get me wrong, there are things which are a lot of fun about it. There are plenty of gags, and some fine performance (especially the villain) but they just don’t make up for the fact that I was not emotionally engaged by anybody’s story on stage because, as is so often the case, there are deficiencies in the book.

Photo: Scott Rylander

I think it all boils down to the fact that the writers don’t appear to know what show they’re writing. It could be about a boy who wants to draw comic books – not my thing, but could have been made to work if we knew his motivation. It kindasorta turns into Faust, when he signs away his life to have the book made into a feature film with the director from Hell – though there’s no indication up front that that’s what he wants, and anyway, he’s a particularly passive character who gets bumped into the movie industry by his best friends. And finally, it turns into a story about a boy who wants to save the world from the Evil Lord Hector, who has a far more nuanced and fleshed out origin story, which starts far too soon in the show. So soon in fact that we don’t care about the Eugene of the title, which as ever, proves to be the kiss of death on any emotional engagement with the material.

To add to the problems there are plot holes you could drive a coach and horses through, and at least two songs – one near the beginning of Act One, and one at the start of Act Two which, though amusing, only hold up the action and serve no actual purpose in the context of the show.

However, it’s the lack of emotional involvement with the characters that’s the real killer. This is evidenced by the fact that the show has to resort to bringing the ensemble back for a tagged-on finale. The same four-bar phrase (inevitably containing the title of the show) is repeated ad infinitum like a stadium-rock crowd-pleaser to whip the audience into a frenzy of emotion un-reached, indeed unreached for, in the preceding two hours.

My serious suggestion? Get a book writer in.

Photo: Scott Rylander

Just time for a few positives. Rob Houchen is likeable as the titular hero, as is Linda Baldwin as the girl who loves him, Janey.

The two stand-out performances though come from the most loveable baddie I think I’ve ever seen on stage, Evil Lord Hector (Neil McDermott channelling Ade Edmondson in The Young Ones) and Theo, PA to a Hollywood director (Scott Paige whose exemplary comic timing is joyous to watch).

There are some nicely done projections and the recorded voice of Brian Blessed every now and again and, oh, yes… Somebody tell lighting designer Andrew Ellis to light the stage, not the audience. I seemed for some reason to have blue lights shining directly at me for most of the show. It’s very annoying…

  • Musical
  • Directed by Ian Talbot
  • Book, Music, & Lyrics by Chris Wilkins and Ben Adams
  • Cast includes: Rob Houchen, Laura Baldwin, Daniel Buckley, Neil McDermott, Scott Paige
  • The Other Palace
  • Until 20th October 2018
  • Time: 19:30. Matinees: 14:30.

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