Arts Theatre, London – until 5 March 2016
What happens when you create an experiment, with a set of scientists to try to make a winning formulaic musical, all by a computer? Well, the outcome of this experiment is Beyond The Fence currently at the Arts Theatre London until 5 March. A two-part documentary on Sky Arts follows the process and the show itself will be shown in full on Thursday 3 March.
The concept is undoubtedly extremely radical but did it work? In a very bizarre and random way it did. Namely because of the human aspect, the cast, who were very strong. Set in the 1980s at the protest against the arrival of nuclear missiles at Greenham Common, this show makes for an interesting subject matter. Of course the “what if” computer picked the fact that it needed a strong storyline, to have a female lead, a love involvement, the archetypal happy ending and a combination of melodies, (picked by computer “Android Lloyd Webber”) and that needed to stick in the mind after the audience had left the show ….and trust me they do!
C J Johnson plays the lead as protester Mary, there’s a lot going on here, and what seems like a very thin plot line, actually has many layers such as, violence on women, peace and at the centre of it all is Mary’s daughter who doesn’t speak. Johnson like many of the cast has a superb singing voice. There are different strands of musical styles and of course that’s to be expected as this is an experiment for a recipe for a successful musical. I particularly enjoyed Scratch That Itch which was sassy sung by Llio Millward and Bouncing Back with Annie Wensak taking the lead, which reminded me of a Gilbert & Sullivan number whilst other songs have elements of Les Miserables.
Tenderness came from scenes between Ako Mitchell (Jim) and Hollie Owen (George Mary’s Daughter). You as I do have to remember this is the world’s first computer generated musical. Whilst I enjoyed the evening immensely it was because I got behind the ethos behind it. I’d watched the first episode of the two piece documentary and liked the experimental element of the project. However do I believe that “Android Lloyd Webber” could in years replace the real thing? Absolutely not as for me the element that was missing was the passion and for that we really need creators such as Nathan Taylor and Benjamin Till so don’t worry guys your jobs in my eyes are very safe.
Beyond The Fence – Arts Theatre West End Until 5th March
By Caroline Hanks-Farmer