Friday, May 29, 2015

'The Theory of Relativity' at the Drayton Arms Theatre, 28th June 2015

No-one can deny that they've crammed an awful lot of talent into the top floor of the Drayton Arms Pub. The Theory of Relativity, a loosely constructed chamber musical by Neil Bartram, works as a beautiful showcase of what these impressive young talents can put together. It's always a pleasant sensation to spot familiar performers on stage, even more so when they're generally among the stand-outs of their various productions.

Structurally, The Theory of Relativity is a series of vignettes centred around the, interconnected lives of a group of college-age Americans - their fears, passions, histories, ambitions and desires. For example, a woman sings out a bad relationship, a man experiences melancholy at life at home moving on whilst he's at college, a nervous physics major prepares for a date, someone deals with their cat allergies and so on.

But.... *deep breath*.

This is gloopy, sentimental, mawkish-as-all-hell BULLSHIT! Listening to college kids moaning about their parents getting divorced, worrying that their parents want them to be an electrician or simply yammering out syrupy, Hallmark card level rubbish about how much we all need each other jams on my annoyance button like few others. It's not just that it's painfully North American in that moronically sincere starry-eyed 'aw gee we're all super wonderful, folks' kinda way, it's that these are the epitome of 'white people problems'. 

Worse, it's swaddled in layers of pseudoscientific claptrap in which, say, Newton's laws of motion, or Einstein's theories used as metaphors for human relationships. I reserve an especially acrid place in my heart for this kind of thing, literary devices that are as cliched as they are unimaginative. Now, I'm not some stone-hearted cynic - I don't mind the occasional dab of sentimentality - but this is about as fun as being forced to smoke a whole pack of cigarettes.

*and exhale*

Having said that, I can't pick any holes in this particular production. These are performers so talented that it's a tiny bit awe-inspiring to spend an hour or so in the same space as them. In concert, they project an incredible confidence and charisma, looking like nothing less than the future shock troops of the West End. They carry themselves with the subtly unconscious ease you see in people who are not only naturally gifted, but have the discipline to elevate their talent through countless hours of practise and toil.

I was pleased to see Joshua LeClair, who impressed as Arpad in She Loves Me back in February. Sure, the metaphor for sexuality at the centre of Apples and Oranges is, to put it mildly, torturous - but he performs the hell out of it, crowbarring every nugget of emotion and personality he can. 

I also got a tiny little thrill when I realised Natasha Karp was in this, who stood out a mile at the recent You Won't Succeed On Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews revue. She was the best thing there and one of the best things here, mixing up a rat-a-tat vocal style with believably frazzled physicality in Cake and, in The End of the Line, one of the more palatable (by which I mean crueller) songs, affects a quick and effective physical transformation alongside Ina Marie Smith.

As a demonstration of talent, The Theory of Relativity is hard to find fault with. The jaunty, upbeat book covers a wide range of styles - from Sondheim-esque word salads right through to hyper-emotional torch songs. This gives every performer space to excel, making for a truly egalitarian show where all are on equal footing. It's just a damn shame that the tone of the show is so pukemakingly cheerful - with just a sprinkling more poison and a little pinch of malevolence I'd have found it much more palatable.


The Theory of Relativity is at the Drayton Arms Theatre until 13th June. Tickets here.

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