"why don't you go fuck a play" Boy George, by Twitter 18.7.2012

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Above the Stag, Below Par

In my remotegoat.co.uk review I wrote that you have to admire Above The Stag’s sustained support for new writing, for showcasing young talent, and for championing work on gay themes. Although that admiration’s wearing thin.

Their revival of When Harry Met Barry after comparatively recent success at the Gatehouse and the stretching of it from 75 minutes to two lengthy acts and an interval hasn’t really added much to the initial charm of the piece.

Briefly, which is a concept alien to the writer, ex-Uni mates Harry and Barry each develop a relationship: H with a boy, B with a girl, before realising they were made for each other. It’s the germ of a good idea.

Paul Emelion Daly is credited with book, music and lyrics and they’re tripartite triteness: the heterosexuals have a romantic relationship, the homosexuals have a physical one, the woman is librarian-frumpy with glasses, the gayest boy is a cipher in plastic trousers and a lisp (although that’s possibly actor’s own rather than scripted).

The music is banal and forgettable, all the songs eventually merging into one continuous round of arpeggio-laden underscore played skilfully (by Lee Freeman) but far too loudly on one electronic keyboard, and the set is one of those home-made hand-painted cartoon jobs which have become an increasingly annoying trademark at the Stag and no longer bear comparison with other low budget fringe theatres where both ingenuity and execution are of a much higher order.

The cast try hard, particularly Madeleine Macmahon as a fallen-angel-cum-taxi driver who narrates and links the piece and Holly Julier who is entirely credible as Alice and well deserves her one good comedy moment in the second act.

Fortunately, Barry is played by Craig Rhys Barlow, a recent finalist in the Stephen Sondheim Society Performer of the Year awards and a young man with an exceptional and entirely natural musical theatre voice for which there should be a bright future: when he sings all the doubts you have about the production and the venue fall away and you really don’t want him to stop.

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