There's always a glimmer of excitement when a new British musical arrives on the scene, we wonder if we'll discover the next Lloyd Webber and if we'll find a show to celebrate.
Matilda was the last superlative laden musical to live up to the expectation and hype and looks set to run and run. Loserville tried and despite all the joy, fun and charm that show brought to the stage sadly vanished at the end of 2012 but now we launch 2013 with Lift, a new musical premiering at the Soho Theatre developed by Perfect Pitch featuring Craig Adams' music and lyrics and Ian Watson's book.
Lift is an ensemble piece of contemporary musical theatre exploring the relationships of the strangers we all come into contact with everyday in a digital age. We open with an animated and bustling London-centric scene, the tube travellers peer over each other's shoulders to read the Metro, before eight strangers get in a lift where suddenly there are thousands of possibilities. The minute long journey to the surface offers the chance to escape from the world around us, to get lost in our thoughts and to dream of another life. From here Lift fragments and staggers through various exchanges, relationships and hook ups - yet ultimately gets lost in it's own concept. From strong opening offerings the show becomes muddled, confused and ultimately difficult to follow. It is far too easy to lose concentration and switch off, it is too hard to get into and eventually I found myself longing for more of a reason to care about the lives of those on stage. It's a real shame as the slow burning concept shows real promise and I am sure that if you dig deep there is a lot to be found in this musical, but I suppose the problem is, sometimes you just don't want to have to get a shovel out to enjoy something.
The Cast Of Lift (c) Darren Bell
There are some delightful songs interestingly staged by director Steven Paling who brings out some fantastic performances from his cast. There are truly lovely and exciting moments when songs come together, particularly in the closing number 'Coda' which showcases vibrant songwriting that fills you with electricity. Cynthia Erivo shows fragility as the Lap Dancer and Nikki Davis-Jones beautifully sings the haunting 'That Rainy Day.' Julie Atherton, one of our great musical theatre performers (and in my opinion the perfect casting for the much mooted Bridget Jones Musical) shines despite an under written character; it seems there simply isn't enough there for the actors to sink their teeth into.
This show by Adams and Watson offers interesting and modern themes which resonate and strike a chord but feel under-developed and muddled. They talk of us unloading our lives onto strangers and the digital world, focusing on gay relationships, cybersex lies and pretending to be someone you're not. They say the more we know each other, the closer we get, the more we lie - which creates a rather downbeat feeling but by the end I felt the message was to remind us that all the strangers we share tube carriages and lifts with are the same as us. We all have our own stories, struggles and lives, we are all the lead in our own movie but an extra in everyone else's.
Lift is an experimental piece of theatre which deserves attention for offering promising ideas, themes and melodies but never reaches its full potential. I have no doubt that this is the start of something unique and interesting, it is worthy of support and an audience but, despite showing promise, just isn't quite there yet. It's a staggered and fragmented concept musical with some beautiful songs, a hugely talented cast and fine staging but sadly isn't the exciting new British musical we've been waiting for... but you know what? I wouldn't be surprised if Adams and Watson, in time, will give us it.