Over the last few weeks in the run up to NAYD’s Young Critics Panel, we’ve published a series of reviews from the Young Critics. With the Young Critics arriving today we publish our final review.
Over the summer months,we asked the Young Critics to attend some shows on their own. We asked them to make a short vlog review of their experience. We then asked a selection of them to turn these into written reviews. Dr. Karen Fricker offered some editorial advice.
Here Bríd Nolan reviews [Title of Show] by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell.
[Title of Show] by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, directed by Angeline Milne
Performed by Andy Carberry, Adam Tyrell, Ciara Ivie, Sarah Jane Williams, and Mark Cox
Viewed on 13t August 2014 at the New Theatre, Dublin. Reviewed by Bríd Nolan
Going to see [Title of Show] is like watching a rehearsal for a play you’ve failed to get a part in. The cast members greet the audience laconically as they stroll on stage, and the fourth wall swiftly becomes an object of derision, one the cast members occasionally snipe at throughout the play.
[Title of Show] revolves around the lives and work of four struggling actors and a keyboardist. Two of the characters, Hunter and Jeff (based on the writer Hunter Bell and composer Jeff Bowen) decide to write a musical about their attempts to write a musical for the 2004 New York Musical Theatre Festival.
The effect is of a blurred, devised timeline of skits spliced by messages left on the voicemail at Hunter and Jeff’s apartment. The musical spans the time between the moment the characters decide the play must be written and shortly after the show’s premiere. The storyline relies heavily on self-parody to keep the audience entertained and in this lies both its appeal and its downfall. While the ironic humour sets the play firmly within the its characters’ lives and keeps things from becoming too abstract, the jokes become a little stale in the second half. It’s a pretty realistic, authentic look at human relationships, albeit one that spurns sincerity.
The set of four chairs, some bookshelves and a keyboard effectively evokes the setting of a modest New York apartment, with a background of exposed brick walls. It makes for a sparse and unforgiving staging which deflects little attention from the actors themselves. This contrasts with a typically lavish Broadway set and budget. This minimalistic approach is both in an attempt to draw attention to the production’s origins, and a reflection of the ethos of the producing group, Ill Advised Theatre, which was set up last year to bring contemporary musicals to Dublin on relatively shoestring budgets. They attempt to keep ticket prices low, and are partially financed by crowdfunding. Given its subject matter and origins, [Title of Show] was thus an apt choice for Ill Advised’s first full scale production. [Title of Show] also continues the New Theatre’s tradition of presenting innovative and unusual productions.
Musically, the cast is strong, especially Sarah Jane Williams as Heidi. The belivabilty of all the actors, especially Jeff (Andy Carberry), and Hunter (Adam Tyrell) is absolute. We are always aware of the dynamic between the pair, as their old friendship is threatened by the pressures of ambition and show business, but at the same time this is never overstated.
The gags occasionally grate and wear thin especially in the second half when the suspense dissolves as the eventual payoff (Broadway!) is reached. The meta-theatrical aspect of the show is intriguing but didn’t manage to hold the audience’s attention throughout. Nonetheless the production’s biggest accomplishment lies the timing and balance of its parody; it relies on a peculiarly self-aware humour and narrowly skirts the risk of of becoming self indulgent.
Bríd Nolan is a member of Cabinteely Youth Theatre and an NAYD Young Critic for 2014