Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Review: Closer Than Ever at the Pheasantry

Closer Than Ever
The Pheasantry
Reviewed on Monday 25th April 2016

With it's wistful score, the melodious Closer Than Ever is a song cycle that sings achingly about the struggles of accepting adulthood. The characters we meet are in their 30s, desperately torn between the eternal abandon of youth, and the fast encroaching confinement of, responsibility, family and unease that comes with middle age. They are thrust in front of us, reflecting on past flings, second marriages and exercise fads. 

There is a concurrent theme of progression, and the terrifying march of expectation that comes with growing older. “Just when you have things set, when it's all in place, When your life is good, there's another door” they cry in the opening number – a plaintive wail to that terrifying understanding that we never reach that island of stability, that imaginary oasis of adulthood. Life is one big choppy ocean and we are always bailing water from our delicate raft. 

The problem then, with Neil Eckersley's cabaret production at the Pheasantry, is that the central concerns of the piece fall flat when performed by a cast as youthful as the one presented here. Through no fault of their own, the 20-something performers continuously smack into the wall that is suspension of disbelief, their youthful looks and energy completely at odds with the themes and experiences of the lyrics. 

They do their best, throwing themselves into the emotion with vigour, but we never really buy into them as divorcees and weary parents. It's a shame, as it creates a real disconnect between our performers and the material. We are aware of the singers, rather than the characters, and in an evening with little to no narrative as it is, it can make this cycle a bit of a slog. 

Musically the score is mostly well sung, however the ensemble could have been given some pointers with regards to microphone technique. The balance in some of the group numbers is well off, with certain performers all but eating the mic, whilst others are stood a foot back. 

Nicholas Corre has a beautiful tone and really relishes his solo moments, showing comedy chops in 'I'll Get Up Tomorrow Morning' and dialling it way back for a heartfelt performance of 'If I Sing'. Richard Carson also fares well, giving the standout performance of the night in 'One of the Good Guys'. His story telling is spot on and there is a convincing longing to his confused moral obligations. 

Whilst this is not the definitive version of Maltby and Shire's Closer Than Ever, it is not without its charms. The young cast may be inappropriate, but they are committed, and musical director Nick Barstow delivers a pleasing score whilst chiming in with some neat vocals of his own from time to time. 

It seems interesting that there is no director listed in the programme notes. Perhaps with a firmer hand on the narrative tiller, some more guidance and about 15 more years between the cast, this cabaret production could've really found it's feet. As it is, Closer Than Ever falls shorter than nearer. 

Reviewed by Will Clarkson

Closer Than Ever runs at the Pheasantry until 27th April 2016.
Please visit www.pizzaexpresslive.com for further information and tickets.

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