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“Love Story” – Jack Studio Theatre

November 20, 2013

I finally caught this at the Jack Studio Theatre (www.brockleyjack.co.uk) on the afternoon of the 16th November – its fringe premiere run that ended that day. I’d been meaning to see it in the West End, but a combination of snow, a winter cold and the fact it closed at two weeks notice meant I missed it. Loving the CD, I finally got to see what the show looked like in full.

So, what do you say, about a show? A three month run, and then it died? To paraphrase the opening line. For me, the simple answer was… “alas, I can see why.”

The entire emotional journey is sadly off-kilter for the audience. A particularly beautiful death scene at the start simply doesn’t have the same impact when repeated at the end.

A score ranging from “ravishing” to “does the job” can’t hide either the telescoped nature of the show. Running 90 minutes straight through, there’s little opportunity to become invested in an obviously passionate white-hot relationship, particularly if key moments are signalled by a brief song, if at all.

The first third of the show covers beautifully the meeting and falling in love of a feisty girl and a boy who just wants to be himself. A well constructed wedding sequence and I was thinking how could I get this moved into the Trafalgar Studio 2, where Language Laid Bare’s ingenious physical production would fit perfectly.

Forty minutes later, I was glad I hadn’t… For some reason growing up / busting up – with parents and eventually each other / reconciling / getting a fatal diagnosis are then rushed through at a speed suggesting the authors were afraid of expanding the good work they’d already done into a longer evening. Expecting to be in more tears at the end than the beginning, I was disappointed to remain dry-eyed.

As to the production itself, the Jack Studio is perfect. Natural voices without amplification, actors and audience so close that we all participated emotionally in the crowd scenes.

Darren Beaumont deserves special mention for his creative “dividing piano” which was both keyboard and entire set, sections moving smoothly around the stage to set the scenes as needed. If the director could have thought more about filling the waits during some of the moves, and also taken a look at how the similarly arranged Shed Theatre stage to avoid masking key scenes from much of the audience (clue: diagonals not vertically opposite stances for main participants) then it would have been perfect.

As for the cast, it’s a brave move to give leading roles Jenny and Oliver to two fresh graduates. Jonny Muir, the more experienced of the pair, proved himself a fine musical theatre actor – and the producers of “The Book Of Mormon” might do well to consider him in a minor part for his West End debut.

His lover, Caroline Keating managed a huge role with all the technical skills her training provided. Obviously feeling the pressure of three weeks run, her vocal was strong but occasionally belying tiredness. No criticism, just sympathy. It’s a sweet voice and I hope she knows how to care for it. Her only other fault was perhaps requiring a little more experience in her comic timing – but again, the lack of edge to her snappy replies could have been the end of run blues. A little more experience like this, and she too should be heading in a further tube zone or two to work.

For the rest, all coped admirably with being on stage for almost the whole length of the show. Stand outs include long time server Paul Tate as an impressively intractable patriarch, Lesley Molony as his warm and long-suffering wife, and the amicable John Sears – proving that humble can be a mighty stage presence.

Notice too for Laura Armstrong’s impactful spiritual presence, Daisy Jorgensen’s caring friend and the musical direction and ensemble work of Jennifer Lucy Cook and Ian Southgate.

A flawed musical, but one deserving to be re-visited. Also a delightful venue, again, deserving likewise.

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