Pretty soon there won't be a single railway tunnel within a mile of Waterloo Station that hasn't got a theatre in it. The latest opened a couple of months ago roughly underneath Waterloo East, and my first trip there is for Dougal Irvine's musical Departure Lounge
. Unlike the other similar theatres Waterloo East has (at least in the way this particular show is set up) sought to cover up as much as possible the building's origins, laying out the space as a pretty standard studio theatre.
Taking place at the end of a week-long lads' holiday to celebrate the end of A'Levels, four British guys are looking back at their drunken antics while stuck waiting for their much-delayed flight home. A lot of the flashbacks concern Sophie (Verity Rushworth) who had a holiday fling with virginal Ross (Steven Webb, as good as ever,) but who may have been getting up to other things as well, depending on whose point of view we're seeing the story from. Along the way we get a lot of fun, cheesy songs, performed well. I saw the matinee which was probably about half full, and did mean it took a while for the show to get the audience laughing. And it's a show that does take some warming up to because, although Pip Minnithorpe's production is actually very professional, its whole schtick is a breezy amateurishness: From Will Reynolds' bare-bones set, to running jokes like the actors excusing themselves to break character and deliver a tannoy announcement, or the other three boys looking embarrassed when one of them gets carried away by a song. When the theatre isn't quite full it takes a while to get into this style, but fortunately the actors do a good enough job that it doesn't take too long for the audience to warm to them.
Chris Fountain plays JB, the leader of the gang and resident rich kid, and is also very good - continuing the recent theme
whereby once people get the hell away from Hollyoaks
they can actually act. (Yes, I know, Chief Storyliner Tointon's recent stint on The Inbetweeners
, but every rule has exceptions.) Liam Tamne is ladies' man Jordan, and Jack Shalloo plays the sunburned Pete - a thread where Pete has unresolved issues with his parents dying when he was young results in a well-performed song, but goes nowhere and feels as if it belongs in a different show altogether. Rushworth is also good and does her best with giving us different aspects of Sophie, but I felt the idea of her changing depending on whose point of view we got was underused.
Apart from those couple of issues though the show hits the spot. The songs are well-sung, and while most of them are pretty tongue-in-cheek Irvine throws in some more complex emotions as well. The best is probably Fountain and Webb's duet "Do You Know What I think Of You?" in which the former can't confess how fond and protective he feels towards the friend he sees as a little brother; while the latter can't admit he feels smothered by his Alpha Male friend and is a little bit pleased that university will probably separate them for good. Neither sentiment is one that you often see staged, and it's made more interesting by both actors playing against type. Elsewhere, "Why Do We Say Gay?" at least makes an effort at dealing with tghe contentious issue of "gay" being used by kids as an insult (as these characters do, a lot.)
So overall it's a lot of fun and well worth catching, and Irvine's songs are a lot catchier than in many recent musicals I've seen so it scores well on most fronts. Departure Lounge
by Dougal Irvine is booking until the 31st of October at Waterloo East Theatre.