“Did you not learn anything?”
Henry Carpenter’s The Quentin Dentin Show was a deserved Edinburgh hit whose late night charm transferred well to the late night slot at the Above the Arts Theatre last year, so it makes sense that his new musical, Summer Nights in Space, billed as a sequel in spirit if not in content, has opened as part of The Vaults festival. But where I was seduced by the random insanity of its predecessor, this new sci-fi musical still feels like a work-in-progress with work still to be done.
All John Spartan has ever wanted to do is go to outer space but like many a man with an obsession, this dedication has come at a cost to his friendships and marriage as he finds himself packed off on a solo mission, which ultimately isn’t at all what it seems. Matthew Jacobs Morgan’s space traveller is thus left to carry a huge amount of the show by himself and sadly, Carpenter’s book just doesn’t give him enough material to sell it as a dynamic one-man-show.
And even when Candice Palladino’s alien intruder and Benjamin Victor’s Computer make it onstage, the book gets way muddled in trying to give the alien something to do whilst leaving the Computer under-developed despite this being the more important of the relationships as it pans out. This final twist again doesn’t quite land, mainly due to a mis-judged late cameo from a fourth character and a real uncertainty of tone. As it is, I’d rather see Return to the Forbidden Planet for the umpteenth time.
Also in the work-in-progress stage in a musical week for the Vaults is a new show from Rebecca Humphries with music by Tim Gardner and Jo Cichonska. It’s a little unfortunate that Prom Kween played in the same week that Everybody’s Talking About Jamie opened, as you wouldn’t have otherwise bet on there being two musicals about gender-fluid prom queens based on real-life stories floating around at the same time.
As it is, Prom Kween is the scrappy underdog here and currently suffers from a lack of clarity about what it wants to be. A pastiche of the American high school genre with knowing nods aplenty to the gleefully cliched-filled run-up to Homecoming, a well-intentioned tribute to Matthew Crisson, who identifies as non-binary and was elected prom queen at LaGuardia Performing Arts School in 2016, or something awkwardly situated between the two.
Aspects of the production work well – having the role of Matthew shared by four performers is an interesting way of exploring gender fluidity and how responses towards it are governed. Others are less successful – the use of celebrity impressions adds little and having RuPaul herself as the narrator and principal is a distraction that is increasingly deterimental. Musically, I found it an interesting show but there’s a ways to go before the book will work as it needs to.
And last up is This is Culturally Significant, a blistering one-man, twelve-character show from Adam Scott-Rowley. Performed naked, this is humanity stripped back to its rawest, a range of characters all at some kind of breaking point, their narratives twisted together and played out in a breathtaking stream of consciousness, sometimes interrupted by a powerful physicality to the change from one to the next, sometimes seamlessly done in the blink of an eye.