Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Stage-to-screen review: Been So Long

If my theatregoing currently appears to be at something like normal human frequency that's because I've been stuck at home with bronchitis, but Netflix have filled in the gap a bit by releasing their film adaptation of Been So Long - Ché Walker and Arthur Darvill's first musical (maybe you shouldn't hold your breath for their second one to get filmed too soon) which I saw when it premiered at the Young Vic in 2009. From that original cast only Arinzé Kene has returned to play Raymond, released from prison and finding nobody to celebrate with him because while he's been away all his friends have got partners and families. Instead he ends up alone at a bar that's days away from closing, where he meets single mother Simone (Michaela Coel,) who's as attracted to him as he is to her, but has put up a lot of barriers to protect herself and her disabled daughter.

It being nine years since I saw the stage show - and the reviews I used to write then being a lot less detailed - I can't say for sure, but I feel like the film adaptation shifts the focus more to the central romantic couple, from what had been more of an ensemble show about the few people who remained loyal to the dying bar.

So bartender and owner Barney (Luke Norris sporting one of the naff haircuts that are somehow his theatrical trademark) is still around but less of a narrator figure than in the stage version. It does mean that while there's still various plotlines going on they don't feel that well tied together - George MacKay's junkie Gil has a deadly grudge against Raymond for a completely imagined reason, while Simone's daughter (Mya Lewis) goes against her mother's wishes to try and forge a relationship with her estranged father Kestrel (Joe Dempsie.) The most scene-stealing character is Simone's best friend Yvonne, Ronke Adekoluejo knocking out of the park her many smutty one-liners; although her own subplot about a completely sexual relationship with a courier (Tom Forbes) that both of them would secretly like to be something more is the most underdeveloped.

With film musicals very much a thing again after decades of it being assumed they didn't work, director Tinge Krishnan matter-of-factly weaves the songs into the action, with exuberant dance sequences that make it feel like a stripped-down MGM musical has turned up in Camden. There's something beautifully British about a big romantic song-and-dance finale in a kebab shop, but musically my one disappointment is that hardly any of the songs are allowed to run their course - the characters barely seem to get a couple of lines out before we move on, so Walker and Darvill's tunes don't have much time to come to life. Overall Been So Long feels a bit rough around the edges but it's definitely worth a look for some witty dialogue, a gleefully showstopping Adekoluejo, and Coel proving once again a completely magnetic lead with some strong chemistry with Kene.

Been So Long by Ché Walker and Arthur Darvill is now streaming on Netflix.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.

Photo credit: Rob Baker Ashton / Netflix.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks. It'll probably be a couple more weeks before the symptoms clear completely but I've been given the OK to go back to work (and theatre) on Monday.