Turbine Theatre, London – until 26 February 2023
A quartet of performers brings to life the new song cycle by Sam Thomas, No Limits, which looks at friends, families, and relationships within a group of younger millennials/older Gen Zs.
Director Dean Johnson describes it as “about identity, anxiety, and breaking through barriers”. With character names like #catfish and #romantic, are there really ‘No Limits’ for where this show might go?
We meet all five characters/performers in ‘Everybody’s Winning At Life But Me’, which bemoans the fiction of everyone living their best life on social media. They are packing up and moving on from their shared space (Justin Williams’ set of table, window, sofa bed is beautifully lit by Alex Musgrave in the brightest of colours).
Owen Clayton, endlessly #romantic, sends a regretful Grindr voicemail in ‘Headfuck’, and duets with #fighter Michael Mather in the song of movement and miscommunication “The Ballad of the One-Night Stand”.
Natalie May Paris’ #dreamer memories of her mother in act one are mirrored by Mather’s dig at his absent father in act two’s ‘Grow Up’ (“we reminded you of her”).
As love, sex, and coupledom are all high on the agenda, we find many songs in the cycle tackle them. This is the time such things find their time to bloom, and No Limits celebrates that.
Hannah Lowther’s nuanced #catfish in ‘Anymore’ grieves for then bins a cheater; then creates a fictional persona for dating in ‘Confessions of a Catfish’. Mary Moore’s #funemployed is the other woman duetting with the wife (Paris) as they plot ‘Another Thing Comin’ for their shared man-slug, exposed through the joy of text.
Moore’s lively optimism pops up again in a comedy club for a bit of oversharing in ‘Two Weeks’ while Mather and Lowther explore doubt in ‘Everything You’ll Ever Need’.
Elsewhere a rock star dream of Mather’s is brought back with the help of a trio of light-waving teddies in ‘Like I’m Alive’, and there’s a celebration of ‘Kinky’ in the bedroom, with an amusingly sticky sex toy.
The best come last: two powerful relationship scenarios which play very differently (Clayton’s ‘Call Time’ is quietly heartbreaking, while Paris’s anthemic ‘No Limits’ raises the roof).
There’s a video screen to one side of the stage, but it is mainly used for static pictures. I found it was easily ignored and felt it could be more integral to the cycle, if really needed.
The songs are sharp and knowing, with some clever lyrics; this cycle will make you laugh but also understand characters you only meet fleetingly. I enjoyed each and every moment of this absolute gem, with the band led by MD Ella Ingram being especially powerful.
The strength here is the vocal skill of each performer, whether solo, in a group, or paired in duets. There isn’t one weak link in the show, and each song brings something new to the table and plays to each singer’s strengths and acting ability.
Like Songs for a New World, to which we can draw inevitable comparisons, this is a cycle that has a bright future, being clever, funny, thoughtful, and playful.
No Limits is at the Turbine Theatre until 26 Feb – tickets here. I’m sure this won’t be the last you hear of it.
Image credit: Danny Kaan