Thursday, 8 September 2022

Rehab The Musical - Review

Playground Theatre, London


Music & lyrics by Grant Black and Murray Lachlan Young
Book by Elliot Davis
Directed & choreographed by Gary Lloyd

Keith Allen

Rehab is one of those rare finds in the world of new musical theatre writing. A strong story, supporting stunning songs, brilliantly performed and all expertly directed.

In a story that’s drawn from writers Grant Black and Murray Lachlan Young’s personal mental health journeys, Jonny Labey plays Kid Pop, a rock star at the height of fame who gets papped doing a line of coke and is promptly sentenced to 60 days rehab at The Glade. Pop’s journey from denial to recovery is subtly yet brilliantly defined, alongside 3 other patients, with songs defining their respective addictions and flaws that capture a wryness of wit, honesty and humour and which show sensitive perception from both writers and performers.

The Glade of course is a supposedly safe and therapeutic place. Outside the clinic’s confines blows the cruel winds of the paparazzi and the media, with the villain of the piece, PR guru Malcolm Stone wonderfully defined by Keith Allen, delivering what has to be the greatest tribute act to Max Clifford ever. Pop is Stone’s client, with the PR man concocting vile and corrupt manipulations (no spoilers here) to keep his client in the headlines. As part of Stone’s deviousness he recruits Lucy Blake, a young mum who’s down on her luck (played wonderfully by Gloria Onitiri), as a honey-trap, paying her to check herself into The Glade. Onitiri has a magnificent presence and she takes the roof of the Playground with her second act number Museum of Loss

There are moments of musical theatre magic - and literal cheesiness - in the story that evolves, but such is the talent on display that the pathos evoked by the story is both credible and at times, deeply moving.

Supporting the story’s three principals are a cast that seamlessly segue in and out of various roles. John Barr as patient Barry Bronze, a man addicted to tanning is, as always, outstanding.  Phil Sealey as obsessive eater Phil Newman is equally compelling, while slightly more thinly-sketched is Annabel Giles’ Jane Killy. All of these three deliver top-notch musical theatre work, not least in their introductory number At The Glade. There is also a fine turn from Dawn Buckland in two modest cameos, firstly as Phil’s wife, singing the haunting Still Here and later with a comic masterpiece as an oligarch’s wife.

Jodie Steele is another of the evening’s treats as Stone’s assistant Beth. With her number Die At Twenty Seven And You’ll Live Forever, Steele steals the show (almost) with her breathtaking power and passion.

Above all, Rehab displays a bold, brave verve and vigour. With songs that range from first-class duetted balladry in Two Broken People through to the stadium-powered Everyone’s Taking Cocaine, slick lyrics are melded with Gary Lloyd’s pinpoint choreography and precise direction. This is a show that has invested as much in its production values as in its libretto (take a bow designers for set, light and sound Andrew Exeter and Chris Whybrow respectively) with Simon Lee’s 4-piece band, hidden atop the stage, making gorgeous work of the exciting score.

Rehab is destined for a larger future. With its brave narrative, exciting score and a company that define musical theatre excellence, catch it in The Playground for an outstanding night out.

Runs until 17th September
Photo credit: Mark Senior

Friday, 2 September 2022

I, Joan - Review

Shakespeare's Globe, London


Written by Charlie Josephine
Directed by Ilinca Radulian

Reviewed by Isla Beckett

Isobel Thom and company

What would Shakespeare think? He wouldn’t, for that is the level of detail afforded by this play. Fancy that. Shakespeare stunned into silence in his very own theatre. O brave new world that has such mockery in it.

I, Joan is based on Joan of Arc’s life, one of the earliest documented feminists. Born in 1412 into poverty, she grew up possessed by a belief that she was channelling God. Convinced of her singularity, she requested a meeting with Charles VII of France, and the rest is history. Joan of Arc helped lead France to triumph against England, motivating a demoralised army and providing strategic input. She was later caught by the enemy and burned at the stake for heresy. Why? Joan reportedly had visions and experienced didactic voices in her head. The same as those that elevated her to the highest ranks of politics. In today’s world, she may have been classed as schizophrenic. In her era, she was deemed a witch. Adding fuel to the fire, she also wore men’s clothes in a defiant act of blasphemy. 

For all intents and purposes, Joan was unusual. Her history is rich and colourful, providing a wealth of material for an adaptation of her life. What a thrilling woman to explore. A walking contradiction. A fighter. A rebel. The skin of a lady with the heart of a man. Her vulnerabilities must’ve been fascinating. What a shame, then, that I, Joan deems it more appropriate to use this woman’s voice as a crass political megaphone. The fourth wall is frequently broken by Isobel Thom's Joan, with what follows being almost always a diatribe against pronouns and patriarchy. After a certain point this becomes tiresome, repetitive and pointless. In the unspoken background, Joan of Arc’s story is screaming to be told. We could learn more from her about gender equality than we ever could by being preached to here.

I, Joan crowbars the present into the past, forcing Joan’s narrative to be what it is not. Her tale is not one of complaint but of courage. Not one of bombastic opinion, but devotion to a cause. Joan did not proclaim herself a feminist, she lived the reality and died for it. So focused is the play on the narrator’s own personal beef with society that it falls flat in its depiction of a hero. For just under three hours, the play literally and metaphorically limps along. One has to admire the writer’s audacity for the constant gender-identity outbursts, couched in a plot that spends much of its time focused on a bunch of actors jiggling around the stage to simulate a 15th century war. A messy and uneven work, I, Joan suffers beneath the weight of two competing points of view. Ultimately, it is rendered characterless. Joan is a vessel for protest, but protest is not Joan. Protest does not stir the mind or the emotions. It does not have the capacity to haunt. As in life, in Charlie Josephine's play Joan does not get the justice she deserves.

Runs until 22nd October
Photo credit: Helen Murray