Review: Girlfriends, Union

“I’ve left my job and my boyfriend called Bob”

The Howard Goodall season at the Union Theatre, soon to move to new premises, has been one of its more enterprising moves in recent times. Love Story and the dreaming both had their moments but the third piece in the trilogy – Girlfriends – feels like the weakest of the lot. Bronagh Lagan’s production can’t do much to disguise the reasons that the show was a commercial flop on its 1987 debut but also adds its own complications with a truly unnecessarily awkward staging choice – how this wasn’t picked up on earlier on is baffling.

The show itself suffers from promising one thing – looking at the experience of working women in the Second World War – and delivering another – the romantic travails of two of them. The company is even split 10 to 2, women to men, and yet the focus settles firmly on this pair of love stories to the severe detriment of many of the supporting characters who remain scarcely sketched caricatures. That three men collaborated on the book – Richard Curtis and John Retellack along with Goodall – might be part of the problem. Continue reading “Review: Girlfriends, Union”

Review: When Midnight Strikes, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“Making resolutions we’ll hold on fast”

Abigail may have been the one holding the party in the 70s but on Millenium Eve, it is Jennifer West who is the hostess with the mostess as she invites friends and family over for a dinner party in her swanky Manhattan apartment. But unexpected guests throw her seating plan awry, the booze is flowing just a little too liberally and more importantly, she’s found an incriminating note in her husband’s coat pocket – it is clear this will be a New Year’s Eve to remember… Kevin Hammonds and Charles Miller’s musical When Midnight Strikes first played at the Finborough in 2007 and those stalwart defenders of new British musical theatre Aria Entertainments, along with co-producers Penny Rock Productions, have put on its first revival at Highgate’s Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre pub.

At a time when the future of the new British musical is bemoaned, it is a wonder that this score isn’t better known. Miller marries a pop sensibility to the rigours of a book musical and has produced something that flows with a vibrancy and urgency through Hammonds’ story, hooking us in with swirling balladry (there’s at least two songs that could become cabaret standards), perky comedic numbers, and a genuine sense of the storytelling power of this form. ‘Shut Up’ is a marvellously frank song which sees various characters voice their inner thoughts about the inanity of making small talk with random fellow partygoers; I Never combines the raucous revelations of a drinking game with candid insights into the emotional lives of those playing, Continue reading “Review: When Midnight Strikes, Upstairs at the Gatehouse”