Off to The King’s Head in Islington for Guy, a new four-hander: a gay, millennial black-box retelling of the Beauty and the Beast myth – written by the young pairing of Leo Mercer and Stephen Hyde – which appears still very much to be a work in progress.
Many of the things which go towards making up a good show are there, but something’s not quite right. There’s book trouble, and until they fix that, this likeable little outing isn’t going to rise above the pub theatre circuit and find a greater life.
The story that Mercer and Hyde are trying to tell is pretty simple and concerns the titular Guy (Brendan Matthew), a fat, fem, nerdy, boy-man graphic designer with a comic obsession (the Beast) in his search for Mr Right (Beauty).
Unfortunately the team commit the cardinal error of making Guy both self-pitying and a doormat, so from the very get-go he’s not someone with whom an audience can – or indeed wants to – empathise.
On top of that Guy does the dirty on his seemingly quite pleasant best friend and flatmate, Tyler (Steve Banks) breaking up his relationship with his partner. Then, after failing to reciprocate the love being shown him by the hottest guy at Pride, Aziz (Seann Miley-Moore), Guy goes into another spiral of self-loathing and has to be rescued by his housemate, the angelically forgiving Tyler, and finally ends up with Aziz, but only after being ‘taught a lesson’.
This really all needs to be sorted out, as it’s holding back what could probably be quite a nice, if not necessarily deep, little show. Go back to the myth, guys. Study shows like Phantom of the Opera – or indeed Beauty and the Beast – and see how they operate in practise.
The lyrics occasionally hit home – there’s a song in Act Two which works well, though as the titles in the programme bear little relation to what’s sung on stage I couldn’t be sure which one (Possibly ‘Mutual Prostitution’?) – but overall they’re rather too repetitive, though this may well be a problem to lay at the feet of Hyde’s score which has a tendency towards repetition. You could cut fifteen minutes out of the show and improve it no end.
There are also some mixed messages going on. On the one hand we’re being told how shallow and objectifying the worlds of dating by gay-app can be (online profiles play quite a part in the show) but at the same time the director (Mercer) loses no time in making sure the young, hard-bodied members of the cast shake their booty for all the audience to be titillated by.
Fortunately, the biggest booty-shaker also happens to be the stand-out star of the show, Seann Miley-Moore, whose ceaseless battle to ensure the material has at least some credibility should win him a medal. He’s also in possession of an extremely fine pop-tenor voice which seems perfectly suited to Hyde’s pre-recorded score.
Brendan Matthew and Steve Banks work well together as believable housemates, and Banks’ secondary role as ‘Chorus’ (multiple Grindr pickups) is often hilarious.
The fourth member of the cast, Adam Braidley does sterling work as Joe – the initial object of Guy’s desires – and Dom – a personal trainer, though could perhaps do with better hair and some ‘glam’ make-up when he struts his stuff as a drag queen…
All in all, not a bad show per se, but certainly one in need of some TLC.
Finally, a little note about the King’s Head itself. Young and Co are very obviously doing their damndest to make your visit memorable for all the wrong reasons. Shame. Dan Crawford must be spinning in his grave…
- By Leoe&Hyde
- Directed by Leo Mercer
- Book & Lyrics: Leo Mercer
- Music by Stephen Hyde
- Cast includes: Brendan Matthew, Seann Miley-Moore, Adam Braidley, Steve Banks
- The King's Head Theatre
- Until 1 September 2018