At the start of Paul Emelion Daly's musical When Harry Met Barry, two people looking for love seem to find it: Gay designer Spencer (Aiden Crawford) bumps into TV chef Harry (Wesley Dow) at the bus stop; mousy, straight bookshop assistant Alice (Holly Julier) meets lawyer Barry (Craig Rhys Barlow) at the launderette. Things appear to be going well for both couples but Harry and Barry have a history and when they accidentally meet again their feelings for each other resurface, unbeknownst to their new partners. The latest show at Above The Stag continues to confirm my feeling that the venue is a lot more in its element with fluffy camp shows than attempts at more serious drama. The cast of mostly recent graduates are also an upgrade on past shows, with most of them watchable and able to carry a tune, although Crawford has projection issues even in a theatre as small as this one. The show itself is pretty slight - the character consistency is probably best not dwelt on too much, especially in the case of Alice and Barry.
It also takes its time getting warmed up, until the titular characters meet and throw a spanner into the works it's like romantic comedy by the numbers. And including a narrator (Madeleine Macmahon) who's an angel of romance is a misjudged layer of cheese that feels like it's come from a different show - it would have worked as well, if not better, had Macmahon played her multiple comedy cameo roles without the naff framing device. Plus she's over-choreographed (by Tim McArthur, also directing) which doesn't help. On the plus side it's not often you see a fluffy romcom where you're really not sure how things are going to end up. And Dow and Barlow are both very engaging performers as well as being good-looking (the latter is also Welsh, which seems to be really doing it for me lately.) Although, in a rare break from tradition at ATS, their boxers stay on. The show's mostly through-sung so it does have the common problem of constant singing that rarely resolves itself into an actual tune; but when it does these are pleasant enough foot-tappers. After a shaky start I found this undemanding fun, largely thanks to the performances, especially from Barlow, Julier and Dow.
When Harry Met Barry by Paul Emelion Daly is booking until the 7th of August at Above The Stag Theatre.
PS: Favourite programme note, possibly ever: Assistant Director Jessica Hathaway "can be found on various websites." O RLY?