Monday, 12 November 2012

REVIEW: 'Pinch Me Is This Real?', Loserville, Garrick Theatre, 26/10/2012

It's important to know what you're getting when you go to see Elliot Davis and James Bourne's new jukebox musical Loserville. It's essentially a story for teenagers, about teenagers.

Set in a high school in 1971, the musical tells the story of Michael Dork, a computer geek working on being the one to discover how to send and receive messages between computers. Michael falls in love with new girl and fellow nerd, Holly, much to the annoyance of his best friend Lucas, and is ridiculed by the school jocks, Eddie and his friends, who steal his work and try to make the break through themselves. It is up to Michael and his friends to try and win the race to reveal their new technological discovery before Eddie, and so win their 'ticket out of Loserville'. If it sounds a bit 'same old' and unoriginal, it's because in truth, it is. It's the kind of story that gets shown every week on American high school programmes, and one that most teenagers could have made up themselves. In fact, the show seems to carry the theme of being like a comic or a cartoon. That's not to say it wasn't entertaining though, even if it did leave a little to be desired.
The show is basically inspired by former Busted member, James Bourne's Son of Dork album 'Welcome to Loserville', and in fact most if not all of the songs are taken straight from the album. The music isn't bad, but one can't help feeling like they are basically sitting through a Son of Dork Concert with a storyline, which essentially they are. The songs are delivered wonderfully. The leads all have fantastic voices and ranges, but the lyrics are unfortunately, like the story line, quite unimaginative. Nick Winston's choreography, on the other hand, is innovative imaginative and exciting, and delivered extremely well on stage.

The highlight of the whole production is the staging and set design. The set is quite metallic and futuristic, and it cleverly appears to reflect the appearance of the inside of a computer. It's also multifunctional. The cast can move and change the set between and during scenes to connote different settings, and the use of cardboard cut outs with cartoon images on them is an inspired way of replacing props and other expensive set changes.
 The talent on display was at a high level too. Aaron Sidwell as Michael Dork was suitably Geeky, and carried himself very well as the lead. His vocal range is impressive too, but unfortunately as with many of the characters, the audience doesn't really form a strong emotional connection and so it's hard at times to sympathise with the character.

Eliza Hope Bennett is also very talented in the role of Holly. She plays the torn soul well and has a lovely tone to her voice, but again her's is a character who the audience struggle to bond with. This is probably more a fault in the writing than with the actors themselves, who performed very well.

Stewart Clarke as Eddie is extremely funny, and possibly one of the more talented of the cast. He is able to make the audience prefer the bad guy to the heroes, and is wonderfully self-obsessed and arrogant. He, along with Robbie Boyle  and Matthew Bradley as his sidekicks Huey and Chuck are brilliant in their roles as brainless, egotistical jocks, with more muscle than brains, and highly amusing. The problem with the character of Eddie, however, is that at the end, whilst getting his comeuppance, he doesn't actually go through any character development.
However the stars of the show are Daniel Buckley as Marvin, and Lil' Chris as Francis, two of Michael's nerdy friends. This duo make a thoroughly entertaining pair of Star Trek obsessed, socially awkward Geeks, and play the funniest characters in the show, but they disappear towards the end and it would be better if they appeared more in the second act.

This show deserves three stars. It serves it's purpose - to entertain its target audience of children and young teenagers - well, but the story and lyrics are unimaginative and unoriginal. The cast are extremely talented, many have recently graduated and are making their professional West End debuts, and deal with the mediocre script well, but it is hard to get excited about the plot or characters when the audience struggle to form any emotional bonds with them. While the production does have some saving graces - the choreography and the set design - most of the songs are easily forgettable. Unfortunately, the cast's talent far outweighs the quality of the production, and it's doubtful that the show will enjoy a long or successful run when the theatre was hardly filled.

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