Friday, September 7, 2018

Review: 'Hamilton (Lewis)' at the King's Head Theatre, 6th September 2018

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 2 Stars

During the opening scene of David Eaton and Fiona English's Hamilton (Lewis) I'm warned that I won't get much out of it if I'm not familiar with (a) Hamilton, the hit musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda or (b) Formula 1 racing. 


Pretty much everything I know about Hamilton comes from the last season of Curb Your Enthusiasm and I'm completely clueless about Formula 1.

In practice, this means that the majority of the gags go right over my head. The majority of the audience is clearly familiar with the musical, so all it takes is for a certain beat to start playing to arouse ripples of giggles. Meanwhile, I'm sitting there slightly befuddled trying to work out if I've missed a joke I should have been able to get, or whether the scene I'm watching was actually part of Lewis Hamilton's life, part of founding father Alexander Hamilton's life parodied via Lewis Hamilton, or simply a surreal moment in its own right.

You could argue that attending a show billed as a musical parody and not knowing the show being parodied is a fool's errand (and you've got a pretty good point), but surely a really good parody should be able to stand as a piece of theatre in its own right without every audience member possessing intimate knowledge of the subject?

And, while I might be expecting a bit much of a show that freely admits they came up with the title first and worked backwards, it doesn't have much to say about Lewis Hamilton. This is a ridiculous comedy, but even so our hero doesn't have a narrative arc so much as a narrative flatline. There's a muddled moral about him losing sight of the pleasure of racing in favour of publicity and sponsorship that doesn't go anywhere and the frequent hints that he's secretly gay never sat quite right with me. It ends with the show admitting that Lewis Hamilton's life doesn't make for a satisfying musical, so at least they're aware of it.

That's far from the only moment the show makes excuses for itself. One thing I do know about Hamilton is that it's a densely lyrical rap musical. Hamilton (Lewis) does have the occasional rap number, but in the opening, it's explained that songs like these are really, really hard to write - so much of the show is going to be a traditional musical. Oh. Okay.

I'm probably coming down too hard on the show. It's not that I had a bad time - the cast (Letitia Hector, Liberty Buckland, Louis Mackrodt and Jamie Barwood) are all fine performers and wring the material like a wet dishcloth to squeeze out every drop of comedy they can.

But the show spends an awful lot of time making light of the fact that it's been slapped together very quickly and that it doesn't make a lot of sense. Points for honesty, but identifying your shortcomings doesn't magic them away. If you're a Hamilton fan this might be worth a look and if you're a Lewis Hamilton fan this might be the one chance you get to see a musical about him, but it didn't do a lot for me.

Hamilton (Lewis) is at the King's Head Theatre until 22nd September. Tickets here.

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