Guest reviewer: Sebastian Calver
U.Me is a story of life as we have known it this last year, with moments of relatable narrative each of us has experienced: from loneliness and longing to despair and distancing. With music and lyrics by Theo Jamieson and book by Simon Pitts, the conception of the musical is imaginative yet instinctively touching, as we follow Ryo (played by Martin Sarreal) and Rose (played by Anoushka Lucas) who share an unexpected relationship through messaging across the world and sharing one another’s extraordinary ‘life in lockdown’.
The lyrics and rhythms intertwine with a witty and warm script with the best kind of relationship that is next to none – happy to debate this. The positivity in the story is encouraging beyond compare as the beautiful sound of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra lifts the journey and creates an atmosphere full of hope and expression, reminding any stiff-upper-lipped denier of the arts, that this will make you feel the most alive. The colour and variation between songs throughout the story are incredibly engaging, no two songs getting stuck. Similarly, the book covers an impressive narrative, at points even layering suffering and excitement, as we all experience different journeys during our isolated periods.
Naomi Otsu (designer) and Dan Masterton (animator) are hugely responsible for the show’s success. Working with the Mighty Pie Creative Studio, the team created the visual line art, which followed/led the action of the musical in the most universal way possible as we all sit at our computers but engage with the story through the animation, as if we were reading the most amazing picture book, as we did as children, with the performers flicking the pages. The visual artwork is clever and endlessly creative, connecting perfectly with Jamieson and Pitts’ story.
As the story develops, we meet Kenji (played by Kevin Shen) and Hiromi (played by Yumiko Payne), sharing another, harder-hitting experience of lockdown. Shen captures the tone and sensitive storytelling effortlessly. Similarly, Lucas’ voice gives us a full collage of Rose’s feelings with ease, culminating in the utterly gorgeous music and lyrics of ‘Choose’ as the dark hopelessness becomes ecstatic excitement. Again, this is accompanied by the beautiful design and animation of Otsu and Masterton, as they explore the metaphors of line art, leaving so much interpretation open to our own imagination.
Although, during interview, Jamieson discusses his influences in the likes of Stephen Sondheim and Adam Guettel, the music and lyrics of U.Me are uniquely passionate and inspiring beyond current musical theatre trends. The rhythms, melodies and harmonies tell a breath-taking story of their own but with detail and logic that fits together like the most satisfying of jigsaw puzzles.
Without a doubt U.Me is the most creative and inspiring piece of art produced by the devastating effects of this pandemic.