Cockpit Theatre, London – until 28 October 2018
Scott Alan’s reputation as a songwriter is without question. Over a number of albums over the last decade (a fair few of which I’ve reviewed here), he’s been able to count on an extraordinary array of performers to bring his music to life, songs which are unafraid to chart the lows as well as the highs of living, loving, losing, dreaming… The Distance You Have Come sees him maintain that quality of guestlist in a live setting, as he entwines together over 20 of his compositions into a song cycle.
It proves a curious enterprise though, one which doesn’t quite cohere in a way that the quality of these songs deserves. Alan wrote the book for the show, as well as directing, and you do wonder whether an outside perspective might have helped. The book tries to do an awful lot in the space of a few snatched sentences between songs and its ambition feels somewhat unnecessary if the show is to be a song cycle rather than a fledgling musical.
As it is, emergent storylines take baffling leaps – is she no longer a lesbian? Did she just pop a sprog from nowhere? Has he just been sexually assaulted or was it an excuse to get him to take his shirt off? Some of these ultimately get answered but it just feels a bit much. And matters aren’t helped by direction which lacks the fluidity to deal with a staging in the round at the Cockpit – for far too many moments in far too many songs, I was left looking at the backs of people’s heads.
What saves the evening to a certain degree is the quality of the cast. It’s always a thrill to see top musical theatre talent in such intimacy and so it proves here – Andy Coxon and Adrian Hansel are adorably sweet as they fast-forward from Grindr hook-ups to gay parenting, Alexia Khadime and Dean John-Wilson deliver emotional fraughtness with beautiful skill, and Jodie Jacobs is given free rein to exercise her superb comic timing as she bounces from one to the other, just for a walk you know…
And they’ve got some good songs to work with. Emma Hatton’s ‘I’m A Star’ is a delight of fizzy ambition, Khadime’s ‘Anything Worth Holding On To’ is a blistering tour-de-force, and Coxon and Samuel find a genuine tenderness in ‘Nothing More’. Overall, the song selection leans a little too much towards a similar emotional heaviness, you long for a little more light and shade to fully depict the ups and downs of life rather than its unremitting slog. If I can’t recommend this show whole-heartedly, I can certainly suggest that you give Alan’s first album Dreaming Wide Awake a listen.