I seem to have opted for a musicals weekend, following my viewing of The Sorrows Of Satan yesterday with two more which have recently premiered online. Admittedly they were both short – about 30 minutes each – but both packed quite a bit in to their one act format and provided entertaining viewing. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that one of them was an almost perfectly formed little gem.
Suddenly is a production by DHB Theatrical based in Melbourne, Australia who claim that their show is “one of the first original stage musicals created for the screen”; perhaps one of the reasons they have kept it short and sweet. It is certainly played out on a stage and has been constructed by Jordie Race-Coldrey (book, music, lyrics and direction) and Dean Gild (book and production). The emphasis is firmly on the songs and accompanying dance which are classily filmed and full of high energy from the well drilled performers. There are 21 of these in total, in itself rather a rarity these days. I’m not sure whether the narrative came first to the writers and the songs were developed out of it, but the overall impression is that the book is rather squeezed only having thirty minutes to tell a whole tale meaning there is little chance to establish character let alone develop it.
As it stands the story arc is quite simple. Mother Lindsay (Katie Weston) and daughter Max (Kara Sims) fall out with each other. They both rush off to ride a train as a calming mechanism, which seems a bit unlikely but I suppose it demonstrates their similar natures. Unbeknownst to each other they find themselves on the same train but in different carriages. The train breaks down and they are individually left to reflect on how they have got to where they are; flashback sequences follow. Max finds herself baring her soul to fellow passenger Harry (Conor Putland) who empathises with her. It looks like Lindsay is going to follow suit with an off duty railway employee in her carriage, but this doesn’t come to anything which robs the piece of some interesting paralleling. I suspect this is because of the self-imposed time limit and may be an area that can be looked at again. I also didn’t feel there was enough of a back story leading up to the moment where they both lose their cool such that it all seemed a bit contrived. However, the three leads put over their songs convincingly and have strong voices so I was sufficiently impressed to feel like what had been presented might make a good starting point for something more substantial.
I had no such qualms about Cells which I thought suited the short format perfectly. It too focuses on a relationship between two people of different generations – this time men. The younger JoJo is just starting university as a science student, the other Neil is just leaving the same place and his job as a lab technician. They have made a connection through gaming platforms online and then encounter each other physically when they make a coincidental 2 am visit to a kebab shop at the end of a night out. They instantly recognise something kindred in each other. It’s no great stretch of the imagination to work out what that might be but if it is, just reread that last sentence. The rest of the piece plays out the consequences of their meeting.
Initially released as seven very short episodes this show is easily devourable at a single sitting. Apart from the brief dialogue in the kebab shop it is basically a song cycle and what the production has is two fabulous singers who bring the whole thing to life and invest it with soul and great heart. Lem Knights (discovered on The Voice) and the more veteran though still fabulous Clive Rowe sing their socks off and complement each other beautifully in the numbers of P. Burton-Morgan and Ben Glasstone. The former also directs in a film that is shot with great care and attention to detail (the poster behind Neil’s head in his flat is a lovely touch of a visual clue) and Jon Dickinson as director of photography deserves recognition for making the visuals so captivating. Put together in just 8 days this production by Metta Theatre, in partnership with the Royal & Derngate, Northampton, the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough should one day make a great theatre piece. However, I would definitely caution against trying to pad it out or do anything like add extra characters. It has the perfect story arc as it is and doesn’t need any tinkering with – especially if Rowe and Knights can be persuaded to reprise their roles. Sometimes good things DO come in small packages