Yes, believe it or not there are
London Theatres I haven't been to before: This was my first trip to the Union Theatre, although I've seen productions that originated there and transferred (like the recent all-male Pirates of Penzance
.) Leaving aside the notorious remix
, I can usually take or leave¹ Rent
, but I'd never seen Jonathan Larson's other musical, tick, tick... BOOM!
and was vaguely curious; the fact that Leanne Jones, the original West End Tracy in Hairspray
was in it sealed the deal. It's an autobiographical musical, originally performed as a one-man show by Larson, about his attempts to make it as a composer. This version was adapted after his death for three actors, with Ashley Campbell as Jon, and Jones and Adam Rhys-Davies as everyone else.
It basically is just a smaller-scale version of Rent
and not quite as AIDSy (although it's still a bit
AIDSy.) I found it very navel-gazing and self-referential, even for an autobiographical piece. There's not many interesting songs and I also had a problem in that I just didn't like Campbell in the lead role, his performance is full of irritating tics both vocal and physical. The other two are much better and inject some much-needed humour, but it's a shame to have someone of Leanne Jones' talent underused like this, especially in a small space like this where you can really enjoy her voice. Her only solo, "Come To Your Senses," felt like it was in a completely different league to the rest of the evening (it helps that it's one of the best songs in the show.) It's the material that was the biggest issue for me though. Actually I was more aware in this than in Rent
of how unremittingly US-centric, and to a lesser extent New York-centric, Larson's writing is: Not in the sense that that's the story he's telling, which is fair enough, but in the tiniest cultural references. American culture being as prevalent as it is, it's not like I didn't understand the references, but while I might know what a Twinkie is, an entire scene devoted to them isn't going to get a warm smile of recognition from me or most of the people in the audience. I did wonder if this partly explained why Rent
never matched its Broadway success over here. And the fact that I'm thinking about these things during the show rather than getting emotionally involved has to say something in itself.tick, tick... BOOM!
by Jonathan Larson is booking until the 5th of June at the Union Theatre.
¹see what I did there?