One of the seminal British bands of the Sixties gets the biographical treatment at The Playhouse this week as part of a national tour in Sunny Afternoon, a show that’s several cuts above the jukebox musical you may be expecting.
Fresh out of the ‘Bath’ as it were and straight into London’s West End comes the eagerly anticipated transfer of last year’s adaptation of the film Mrs Henderson Presents. Perhaps most commonly known to most as the ‘striptease revue film’ starring Judi Dench, Will Young and the late great Bob Hoskins. Mrs Laura Henderson and her girls bring us straight to the heart of an austerity Britain, with the women and the workers of World War II, providing a much more gut-wrenching hit than one might have imagined.
Drayton Arms Theatre, London
Music & lyrics by Neil Bartram
Book by Brian Hill
Directed by Christopher Lane
Jodie Steele, Simon Bailey, Natasha Karp
It’s a brave conceit to fuse art with science and one that The RSC only recently pulled off with their stunning Oppenheimer, analysing the atomic bomb’s evolution. On a more modest level, The Theory of Relativity seeks to link Einstein’s eponymous theory with the human condition. That the show’s final monologue (delivered it must be said, via a brilliant performance from Jodie Steele) seeks to play on the rather tortuous wordplay of “the speed of light” vs “the speed of life” offers a hint at how shallow this show’s thesis turns out to be. As an exercise in modern metaphysics The Theory of Relativity turns out to be little more than a sometimes flawed song-cycle, albeit one that showcases some top notch performance work.
The always excellent Simon Bailey leads the company as a quirky geek, in a character who also offers the one strand of chuckle-worthy humour with a recurring motif that gradually takes the value of pi to an increasing number of decimals. Bailey brings a precision to both his vocal and physical presence that lifts the show – with a beautifully resonant tone.
Steele’s presence matches Bailey – with a vocal belt and a poignant lyric that also defines her as an actor of considerable merit.
Elsewhere, Natasha Karp is a strong neurotic and Ina Marie Smith has a pleasing presence too – though for the writers, in 2013 no less, to have been making fun of size 16 women and OCD is offensive. A number intriguingly titled Apples and Oranges hinted perhaps at a foray into Newtonian physics? Alas, it was merely a trite and patronising nod towards diversity.
Set above a pub and with a noisy air conditioning unit, the shallow raked audience placed end-on to the action demands a vocal strength in the company’s projected voice work that isn’t always achieved. More work is needed here, certainly in the show’s softer moments.
Musically, MD Barney Ashworth, occasionally accompanied by actor-muso Andrew Gallo on guitar, delivers an impressive shift on the keyboard.
Put together on what appears to be a micro-budget even for London’s fringe, The Theory of Relativity is a one act work that drags – and if you struggled with maths and physics at school, there are no easy answers here. That being said, it offers a hard working troupe in action and to catch a close up glimpse of some of our nation’s finest young performers, then fans, producers and casting directors should head to SW5.
Runs until 13th June
Picture credit: Poppy Carter Portraits at www.poppycarterportraits.com