Drayton Arms Theatre – until 5 May 2018
In theory, musicals can be about anything, but like films, often fall within certain tropes. Not so with Free Solo: A New Musical. Inspired by practitioners who climb rock faces without the aid of harnesses or other safety equipment, Free Solo tackles the subject of fear and whether one’s passions can sit side-by-side with raising a family.
Created by Jack Godfrey and Celine Snippe, and directed by Nick Leos, Free Solo focuses on the Robinson family. John Robinson (Simone Leonardi) is a world-renowned climber and gets paid to scale nature’s most difficult terrain. However, when we first meet the family, it’s through his daughter Hazel (Cecily Redman) and we find out that John died 10 years ago. Looking through a notebook that contains all his preparations for ascents, Hazel reminisces…
The book that frames the musical is well-considered and the songs are a natural outgrowth of emotions and situations in the show. It’s quickly established that the family have their routines that revolve around John – allowing him his own personal time to prepare for the task ahead but sharing quality time afterwards. John’s wife Jessica (Esther Shanson) is as supportive as can be, but in some ways she has the hardest task – publicly happy for her husband to make dangerous trips, but worried each time will be the last.
As a loving daughter, Hazel idolises her father and he does nothing to dissuade her from her viewpoint that he’s ‘cut from the same cloth’ as her favourite superhero, Spider-Man. However, John is all-too-human and even Spider-Man falls if he doubts himself…
The show is unafraid to pose questions about John’s lifestyle. He isn’t firefighter or in a profession that requires to put himself in harm’s way to save lives. As a single man, one could say he was following his passion, but as a married man shouldn’t his first duty be to be there for his family? How would his death affect Hazel in the long run?
Free Solo is very different from other musicals, or plays for that matter, but its focus on the emotions – of those in the limelight, as well as those who aren’t – make for a fascinating contrast.