“The questions raised at every turn show there’s always more to learn”
This production of Stiles + Drewe’s Just So, their musical adaptation and conflation of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories was a well-received one at Chichester Festival Theatre, coming almost a decade after the show was originally written. Their historically family-friendly back catalogue has served them well over the years – and is bearing significant fruit now in their Trio of Trios, and some elements of this well-cast recording are just lovely.
The heartfelt simplicity of ‘Does The Moment Ever Come?’ is perfectly suited to Richard Dempsey’s sweetly earnest Elephant Child, Julie Atherton might never have sounded better (or more wonderfully northern) on the nervously apprehensive ‘Wait A Bit’ and John Barrowman’s Eldest Magician has the charisma to make his life lessons a little more holistic than hectoring. His singing on ‘Just So’ and ‘If’ wisely warm-hearted.
But to be brutally honest, Stiles’ music doesn’t always carry such charm in some of the minor numbers and sharp as Drewe’s lyrics often are, the book as a whole has too much of a tendency to lecture, to insist its story-telling points over-ride Kipling’s originals to its detriment. And the overall feel of the show became somewhat wearisome to me which I found most surprising, especially I had fond memories from the one time I’ve seen it at the Tabard back in 2010.
From this vantage point, one is tempted to observe that their more straight-forwardly children-friendly work of recent years seems to be a better distillation of what they’re trying to achieve and likewise with Betty Blue Eyes for more grown-up audience members. Just So feels a little caught between these two schools, an early work from a composing duo still in search of their true voice.