Hen & Chickens Theatre, London
What was I expecting from Space Age Love Songs by TL Wiswell? A queer love story, with drag, dancing, sci-fi, mandroids, new wave music and a celebration of the friendship between gay men and straight women. All right up my alley. What I hadn’t anticipated was just how much heart this show would have.
Set in 80s Arizona we meet Cami, a teenager living in poverty with a mother who wants her out of the way. Her tendency to wear all black, and to be constantly listening to her headphones, means she hasn’t had a chance to make friends at her new school, that is until she meets Daniel. He opens her eyes to new worlds, from gay bars and drag shows, to the sort of books you wouldn’t find in a school library.
Daniel is quickly absorbed into the fantasy sci-fi world she visits when listening to her a music. A place she has created to escape from the real world. The show merges the real with the fantastical in a way that drives the plot forward in both realities, avoiding any unnecessary repetition of events. This means the show maintains a fun, pace that keeps viewers absorbed throughout.
Micha Mirto’s direction brings this ambitious story to life in a fun, self-aware way, with Cami often breaking the fourth wall with a look or a gesture, to great comic effect. The small space of the Hen & Chickens is used cleverly, a few props here and there prompt our imaginations to travel easily between Arizona and Mirrorworld.
Lottie Grogan’s choreography is sharp and playful, fitting in perfectly with the flow of the show. With music credits ranging from Ultravox to Tchiakovsky via Sondheim, there is certainly a wide range of sounds shaping the movement. There is even an hilarious fight scene, but I’ll say no more as my reviews are a spoiler free zone.
The cast of six throw themselves into the show with an energy and sincerity that brings it all together. While there is a knowing humour to their performances, it is never at the expense of the emotional truth of the show.
Eleanor Burke brings a resonant emotional depth to the role of Cami’s mother, while also seamlessly transforming into various other more comic roles (including that of her Mormon teacher Tankersley). I love her performances.
Andie Worth’s Matt is a glowering, petulant, damaged figure as Daniel’s woman-hating, closeted boyfriend. Robert Twaddle is otherworldly as Daniel, and brings a wonderful physicality to the role that enables him to convincingly go from drag-queen to mandroid. You can totally understand why Cami is so infatuated with him.
Reanne Black is captivating as Cami. She has such an expressive and open face, Cami’s emotions shine through for all to see. You’d have to be hard of heart to not care what happens to her, and to not be moved by her journey. She is a delight to watch.
I left the Hen and Chickens feeling warm (literally, dress for the tropics, it gets hot up there) and uplifted. Space Age Love Songs feels like a cult classic in the making. While set in the 80s, the themes of ally-ship and acceptance are universal and resonate today.
Who’d enjoy it? Lovers of drag queens, Rocky Horror, The Breakfast Club, New Wave, the 80s, Scifi, Flash Gordon, jazz hands, coming out stories and Sparks – to name a few. Space Age Love Songs is a treasure trove of goodies, brought together to create a feel-good and compassionate queer love story.
Space Age Love Songs runs at the Hen and Chickens as part of the Camden Fringe until Sunday 25th August. In September it will also be running across various dates at the 2 Brewers.