Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Theatre review: See Rock City And Other Destinations

One reason I don't like star ratings is that they make it hard to go into a show without preconceptions. I haven't read any reviews of See Rock City And Other Destinations but I've seen it get five stars - unfortunately they were spread across three or four different reviews. This apparent universal dislike for the piece made me go in wanting to see something in it that everyone else hadn't, but Brad Alexander and Adam Mathias' musical doesn't make that easy. The road trip is a much-loved American narrative, but one that's notoriously hard to translate to the stage. Alexander and Mathias approach this by steering in a different direction, throwing together a number of stories in which people visit a variety of landmarks. A cast of thirteen take on these little vignettes, starting with the title story in which waitress Dodi (Nancy Sullivan) has lived all her life in a town filled with "See Rock City" signs but never contemplated going there herself until a drifter (Alex Lodge) comes to her diner.

I can sort of see where the idea of the show comes from - the snapshots of American lives and the journey to a place they hope will make everything better - but the execution fails on pretty much every level.

One of the main reasons I wanted to see this was Sullivan because she was such a good Sherbet Gravel last year, and she's fun here as well. She invests sweetness and something approaching plausibility into a character so lacking in curiosity she's not only never thought about seeing Rock City despite growing up surrounded by signs for it, but it's also never occurred to her to find out what Rock City actually is. (It's a city. Made of rocks.)

But soon we're done with Dodi and Jess, and we've moved on to Roswell, New Mexico and Evan (Joshua LeClair,) a UFO-spotter whose obsession has cost him his job and relationship. Evan pops up a couple of times in the show but otherwise the stories just turn up, go away and are forgotten, usually feeling incomplete and certainly not connected in any way. Most of the cast have good voices but they're lumbered with a incredibly bland selection of songs - "All There Is To Say" would be a pretty functional song in most musicals but the fact that it's got a bit of a tune to it makes it stand out, and Georgia Permutt's performance invests it with the feel of a showstopper. Tone is a problem too: Permutt's story is a romance but Kris Marc-Joseph has it all to do to stop his character from seeming like a creepy stalker. And Richard Dawes and Barney Glover's foul-mouthed song may be appropriate for a couple of private schoolboys playing hooky, but it feels at odds with the twee nature of the rest of the show.

Director Graham Hubbard tries to bring some sense of continuity by having the character of the Tour Guide (Ricky Johnston) onstage throughout, but I don't suppose that's how the show is written as he just hangs around silently in the background as characters drive around, like a fart trapped in the back seat. He finally gets something to do in an interminable final sequence where he leads a nervous bride around Niagara Falls trying to convince her to take the leap - whether figuratively or literally I didn't care at that point. The cast are mostly good and invest the piece with an energy it frankly doesn't deserve - surely the most impressive part of everyone's performance is keeping the smiles on their faces through a show they must surely know is a floater.

See Rock City And Other Destinations by Brad Alexander and Adam Mathias is booking until the 30th of August at the Union Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes straight through.

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