Seven Dials Playhouse, London – until 15 October 2022
Finn (Elijah Ferreira) and Jass (Jade Johnson), who identify as queer, are the last two people left alive by circumstance after a suffocating fog in this charming one-act musical.
While he spouts true love and the assurance she is the one, she wants something else even if there are no “others”. His guitar, their lizard – the only thing surviving in the zoo, and named ‘Brian Eno’ – and the tinned food from the local supermarket keep them going. For fun they act out the films they can no longer watch.
Lyrically, Help! We Are Still Alive is a bit shaky, but when there’s a laugh, it’s genuine. Serious issues are skirted around: this pair will never produce children; they assume their families have perished.
Given a longer run time, a stronger book and more focus, these characters could be more defined. What really brings these two together? What drives Finn’s transition (he stockpiles testosterone from the pharmacies)?
Finn’s anxiety and instability feels as if it could be explored further, and I would love to know Jass’ backstory and what drives her. There’s much to be mined here given time and care.
The set (by Lu Herbert) is made up of one raised area plastered with newspaper headline cutouts and pictures, with a group of torches hanging aloft to help focus the lighting. There’s no band, just the one guitar.
For scenes and settings the doors to backstage are used alongside a trolley and Finn’s “found art”. What doesn’t quite work is the idea of an apocalypse that kills everyone bar two and yet leaves them seemingly in good health for four years.
The songs are fine, and catchy. The performances from both Ferreira (making his London theatre debut) and Johnson are very good, displaying the easy chemistry with each other needed to keep a two-hander moving.
Tim Gilvin (music and lyrics) has been behind a variety of musicals in recent years. Ben McQuigg, musical director, fulfilled the same role for Thrill Me, and here he captures a mischievous sense of melodic style.
Imogen Palmer (book/lyrics) and Georgie Rankcom (director) both have experience backstage as artistic directors of The Delight Collective and The Grey Area respectively.
Read this as an absurdist fantasy, even one acted out after these two died with everyone else, and it makes more sense. It left me thinking a bit of Where The Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs but with shopping trollies and mooncups.
The ending seems to set up a sequel, or continuation. If this is so, I’d be on board.
Help! We Are Still Alive is playing at the Seven Dials Playhouse until 15 October: tickets available here.
Image credit: Danny Kaan
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