Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Theatre review: LIFT

Craig Adams & Ian Watson's new musical LIFT assembles a pretty great cast to tell what isn't quite a story, but a series of scenes and songs that include a lot of good moments. A Busker (George Maguire) is at Covent Garden tube station, reading the letter his ex-girlfriend dumped him with and wondering if he should talk to the girl he sees on the same carriage every morning. The lift takes 54 seconds to get to the surface, and as he travels the Busker imagines the lives of the other people in there with him, and the various ways in which they might interact. A lesbian French Teacher (Julie Atherton) has been bought a lap dance as an ill-judged gift, and ends up treating the Lap Dancer (Cynthia Erivo) more like a counselor. The Lap Dancer herself is at ballet school by day, where she has a complicated relationship with her gay best friend, the Ballet Dancer (Jonny Fines.)

He in turn sometimes goes online pretending to be a woman, flirting with the Bright Young Thing (Luke Kempner,) a laddish businessman who can't deal with his personal life as easily as with work, where he has a will-they won't-they relationship with his Secretary (Nikki Davis.) And the Secretary herself is the girl the Busker likes.


Musically the show is interesting, Adams' score clearly influenced by Rent. It's mostly through-sung, and the melodies come and go throughout the show, blending into one another and never really resolving into songs. So the music's never boring, but not really something I could see myself wanting the soundtrack to, there's rarely a clearly defined song with a beginning, middle and end.

The structure of Ian Watson's book is also a bit problematic as it feels like the disparate threads of the characters' lives should come together, but a show that looks like it might be an intricately-constructed puzzle actually turns out to be all loose ends. And a problem with a show about life's frustrations is that it can end up frustrating for the audience too.


But there's a lot of cleverness in the way director Steven Paling tells these vignettes, on Georgia Lowe's cross-shaped set with sliding frames representing the lift shaft, and some nice humour, like the use of two American tourists in the back of the lift (Ellie Kirk and Robbie Towns) to play the online avatars when Ballet Dancer and Bright Young Thing have their chats. And what a cast Paling has assembled: There's plenty of eye candy in the form of Kempner, Fines and Maguire, and all of them also get opportunities to show off their impressive vocals (although Fines could do with toning down the boyband facial expressions when he's hitting the big emotional notes.)


And Julie Atherton continues to prove that she makes any show she's in worth seeing. It's not just the massive notes that her distinctive squeaky voice can hit but the incredible amount of emotion she can bring to every line that makes her big number "Lost In Translations" the show's highlight. Though the characters are underdeveloped she and Erivo manage to bring a warmth to the French Teacher and Lap Dancer's unusual friendship - Erivo also getting her moment in the spotlight with a big number.

But the characters are underdeveloped, the idea that they're just imagined versions of the people in the lift (the Busker names all the men Gabriel, after himself, and the women Sarah, after his ex) is a bit too plausible. Most problematic is the Geordie Ballet Dancer, who's far too much of a gay cliché - sex-obsessed, always on Grindr, checking out men's arses or having anonymous sex in a sauna, but closeted back at home. Andy said the character was such a stereotype it became the big hurdle the show had to overcome for him to enjoy it.


Is LIFT worth seeing? You won't regret catching these impressive performances in such a small space, and new musicals are such a massive undertaking it's always worth supporting ones that make it this far. But in the years of the show's development instead of gaining focus it seems to have lost it somewhat. The writers have eschewed a traditional structure, which can be a great thing, but perhaps they needed to have found a new structure to put in its place.

LIFT by Craig Adams and Ian Watson is booking until the 24th of February at Soho Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.

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