VINYLLY, THEY ALL GROW UP…
Theatrecat is always up for a new-fledged theatre, however hard to find in the drizzle. This – a bit east of the south end of Chelsea Bridge – is the latest railway brick arch to turn thespian, trains rumbling atmospherically overhead in the quiet bits and tucked behind some flash new flats which think they’re in Manhattan. Paul Taylor-Mills is into musicals, and has MT Fest coming in 2020: this fling is a remake of the off-Broadway musical of the Nick Hornby novel, which itself followed the film with John Cusack. It’s Tom Kitt’s music, Amanda Green’s lyrics, and book by David Lindsay-Abaire (who wrote that stonking GOOD PEOPLE play a while back).
So much for its pedigree. The tale of Rob, one of those Nick Hornby heroes who badly needs to grow up and sweetly does, but only at the very end, was transposed from Holloway to Brooklyn for film and musical, but has been firmly brought back to London by the savvy Taylor-Mills with Vikki Stone script-doctoring. So the idea is – according to the flyers – partly to draw in dating couples who will both go awwwwww, for different reasons; and partly to let us all “experience hip Camden vibes without the tourists”. To which end they’ve even bothered to make the front row, where you’re practically hanging out in Rob’s cluttered vinylworld , into sofas and beanbags. Tom Jackson Greaves directs and choreographs (excellent movement, stompingly vigorous in the tiny space) and David Shields goes mad with old vinyl records dangling and perching like crows.
Speaking as an old bat who outgrew the Camden vibe in about 1980, I didn’t expect to fall in love with the show. And didn’t with its hero (though Oliver Ormson is a fine singer ,devilish handsome and does his best with the annoying character). There are too many Robs in the world – or were in 1995, when economics were less hostile to youth and MeToo was not yet born. The ensemble, on the other hand, had me helplessly grinning with affection from the start.
Carl Au as Dick, Joshua Dever as the hopeless customers turned Springsteen, and Robbie Durham as Barry the aspiring songwriter who despises Natalie Imbruglia more than Satan – all are glorious. So are the rest of the geeky, misfit customers and friends who shamble around and up and down the aisle in tie-dye, beanie hats, foolish trousers, Oxfam sweaters and endearing attempts at boho-transatlantic hair. I became half-nostalgic, half- maternal. When they variously grow up and accept that “it’s not what you like that counts but who you are”, a proper feelgood warmth vibrates around the arches. Shanay Holmes is good as Laura, though it’s a dull part being the ultimate girly-swot. Robert Tripolino makes the most of the fearful hippie-spiritual Ian.
And the show itself? Off-Broadway it was observed that the lyrics are a lot hotter than the music, and this is still the case. But it stomps along unmemorably with great goodwill and a three-piece band overhead, and moments of soul or hare-krishna pastiche are wittily done. The Springsteen moment is certainly worth seeing, and the fast-rewind staging of Rob’s defiance of Ian is genuinely funny stagecraft. What you carry away most, though, are memories of the endearing ensemble , daftly good lines like Laura’s wistful “He’s got insurance, self-assurance, marketable skills” , or the moment when each of the young idiots sleeps with the wrong person and the words “used/ confused” echo sadly round the stage.
box office TheTurbineTheatre.co.uk to 7 Dec