A couple of days ago I watched a delightful little short from the Scenes For Survival series titled Call To Adventure by Finn Anderson who during the last decade has established himself as one of the leading lights of UK musical theatre. He’s even got to the stage where others cite him as an influence as is the case with Aaron Lee Lambert who is the writer/composer of musical From Up Here available on the Digital Theatre platform. I mention this simply because the show is all about making connections and so this initial diversion seems to fit the theme.
The “up here” of the title is the walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge which connects Manhattan to the mainland across the East River and which is one of THE iconic structures of New York. QI fact: In 1865 a swimming instructor, Robert Emmet Odlum, was the first person to jump from the bridge in order to demonstrate that people didn’t die simply because of falling through the air. A gust of wind blew him off his trajectory and he hit the water at an awkward angle – and that’s what he died from. It’s another point of connection because this musical opens with two strangers to each other, dissatisfied with her going nowhere relationship Emily and recently widowed Henry (Leila Benn Harris and Tony Kemp), contemplating jumping deliberately; however, they form a mutual bond which gives them the strength to carry on. While this all happens rather suddenly in about ten minutes (the show only runs for seventy) it demonstrates another constant theme in the piece, that mutual support and empathy are necessary for survival. In essence, it’s all about building bridges (sorry!)
It’s a busy time on the bridge for ending it all, as no sooner have Emily and Henry gone on their respective ways then Jill (Lisa Kerr) turns up also with the supposed intention of finishing things after discovering she is pregnant. This time Alan (Russell Walker), a rather harassed passing businessman dissuades her. Then it’s back to Emily again who, this time, is with boyfriend Dan (Tommy Sherlock) a photographer carrying out a project about people on the Bridge. Thus the various narratives are gradually woven together as he approaches each of the others to take pictures of them and their relationships develop. In all we see various short scenes across the space of a year (marked by Jill’s increasingly heavy pregnancy) as the quintet learn to cope with life’s vicissitudes with a little help from each other.
It’s the sort of idea and structure I can imagine Sondheim coming up with, though there the comparison ends. The short running time doesn’t really allow for full development although having said that, for it to have been any longer would have become self-indulgent and tedious without adding further characters into the mix. The main issue is that I didn’t feel sufficiently invested in the characters’ problems largely because they had to narrate them to one another (and thereby the audience) rather than us seeing them first hand; maybe some flashbacks to show us (rather than tell us) would have helped. However, it’s a more than competent piece of work which is performed well enough – Kerr’s characterisation particularly stands out – and is ably directed by Luke Sheppard. The music is not particularly memorable though the main achingly longing “up here” theme lingers afterwards. MD Tom Attwood keeps a tight hand on the tiller with a small band (sadly uncredited) and Victoria Spearing’s set design does a fine job in recreating such a well known piece of architecture aided by Alan Valentine’s lighting. Given that most of the action takes place at height I did wonder how the sightlines worked for a live audience – fortunately in this iteration it isn’t a problem.
The production has been supported by Perfect Pitch who specialise in “creating, developing and promoting new contemporary British musicals” and who have two other pieces available on Digital Theatre, Lift and Pieces Of String; I’ve seen and reviewed the first and will return at some point for the second. Of the two I’ve seen so far though, this is the one to go for.
Today’s bonus Scenes For Survival piece is Ian And Sheena, in which, in a nicely self referential way the Kirktoon Players, Scotland’s leading am dram group have been asked to contribute to the Scenes For Survival project. The titular characters played by Richard Conlon and Gail Watson (along with signer Natalie MacDonald) have to come up with an idea which will show the pros how it is done. Written by Conlon and Watson, with Robert Softley Gale, this is great fun
From Up Here is available on the Digital Theatre platform – click here
Scenes For Survival pieces are available from the NTS website – click here; a number are also available on BBC iPlayer – click here
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