Garrick Theatre, London
Drew Gasparani’s song cycle has some genuinely lovely songs, but seems to lose its way slightly in the second act.
Brimmed to the full with West End talent, this UK stage premiere of Drew Gasparini’s I Could Use a Drink (which was also streamed during lockdown) is a lively and heartfelt affair that is really engaging to watch from start to finish.
Based on Gasparini’s 2013 album collection of songs, this song cycle like so many song cycles might not have a plot as such but has been created in such a way that it gives you insight into a number of different character’s lives and thoughts. This is particularly evident during the heartfelt act with songs such as ‘A Little Bit’ performed with great feeling and humour by Luke Bayer about a guy coming out to his mum via the answering machine or Maiya Quansah-Breed’s beautifully tender rendition of ‘If I Had You’ – these and other songs in the first half are packed with emotion and humanity that many in the audience can certainly relate to.
Directed by Alex Conder, the stage does look a little bit full at times, but I loved the folksy set up with a variety of items on stage to represent the different stories being uncovered and it feels as though the characters are all coming together. This is seen through the way in which the cast are able to interact with each other quietly in the background and reacting to what is being sung – as seen through the performance of ‘Fell in Love With Crazy’ performed with great depth by Callum Henderson. It is a song that seems initially his character is glad at the end of the relationship and turns out that despite her particular ways he is still in love with her – showing the complexity of love and relationships perfectly.
It is clear there is a great depth and range emotionally during the first act, with ‘Dear Lucy’ performed by Ahmed Hamad and ‘I Loved You Too Much’ proving to be just two great examples of this. But in the second act, it feels more difficult to really to connect as deeply with the songs – which is a shame as they are equally excellent with ‘Valley High’ being a great opening to the second half – but it feels as the stories meander and the ending feels abrupt and suggests that it needs restructuring to make it feel as seamless as the first act.
This being said, as mentioned the cast is all excellent, delivering each song with great depth and meaning. With particular stand out performances from Billy Nevers whose rendition of ‘Good Stuff’ is electrifying, while Olivia Lallo and Conder’s renditions of ‘Two Little Lines’ and ‘No Turning Back Now’ really get to the heart of the panic and hope of teenage pregnancy. The harmonies from all of the cast are of the highest quality.
Overall, while I Could Use a Drink could use some work structurally the songs and performances are of the highest standard and it was a real joy to witness.
By Emma Clarendon