2020 The Musical at The Stag Theatre
2020 The Musical is a new show which is currently in development and actively seeking feedback. I was thrilled to be asked along to support a new British Musical at early stages of its journey.
The show looks at the impact that 2020 had on performers and the jobs that they took on when the theatres went dark. We looked at the stories of those that had been working in the West End or on tour with Matthew Bourne and ended up working in a care home, Lidl, as a cleaner or on a construction site in order to make ends meet. With some of the show taking us right up to the end of lockdown (and hopefully into the near future) it was a brave task to take on a story so fresh in the nations collective consciousness.
2020 the Musical took on numerous different styles from very literal conversations to pieces of interpretative dance. I have to admit that I particularly enjoyed the more abstract interpretations including a contemporary dance number set on a building site which used the UV lighting and builders florescent jackets to quickly set a sense of location or a ‘stomp’ style number delivering by a troupe of cleaners and their brooms. As I have mentioned the dance numbers I must also mention the choreography by Natasha Mould (who also wrote and directed it). Whilst Natasha is clearly a great performer she also has a future as a choreographer. She understands how to tell a story through dance as well as utilise a numerous skills and styles of her cast.
The light and shade in the show were well thought out and despite it being a serious topic there was moments of light relief and warmth. The care that Emily clearly developed for those in the care home she worked in came across strongly and as a result this was probably the most sympathetic character for the audience. Her caring responsibilities at work were never demeaned and instead we joyfully heard how she had earned qualifications in it. There was also touches of humour throughout. The multiplying Boris Johnson’s for example gave us all a chuckle as did nods to things such as stockpiling toilet roll.
There were however some numbers where I failed to see the relevance and they seemed a bit self-indulgent. For example there was a beautifully danced ‘Steam Heat’ sequence. This but felt like it sat more within a review or cabaret show rather than a look back on 2020. There were also other numbers which I enjoyed but felt superfluous to the show, or at leas at the point it was placed in the show. For example ‘The Press conference rag’ from Chicago was used to question the dancers about their ambitions and hopes for getting back on stage but it came at a point in the show when it felt like the show had already been wrapped up. This number may have worked better at another point and the focus maybe on the famous press conferences that Boris Johnson held (and continues to hold) with him answering the questions and the questions being asked of him focusing around the arts support (or lack of it).
Whilst the focus of 2020 The Musical was on the lack of support for the arts and performers during 2020, it did feel a little odd that the number of lives that were lost as a result of the pandemic was glossed over. There was a brief mention as to the resident of a care home passing away but the loss of lives was generally ignored. As the highlights of the show were often the interpretative dance moments this didn’t even have to be explicitly spoken but a moment of dance to acknowledge it and would have kept in with the flow of the show. I also think a moment like this would have helped the audience connect more with the piece as a whole as I am sure most of us has have lost a loved one or had someone hospitalised throughout the pandemic.
Throughout 2020 the musical the music ranged from original music by Richard Vanryne to some pop and musical theatre classics with lyrics changed to a couple of well known numbers performed as written. At times this constant changing style was difficult to follow and get my head around. I however appreciate that original music takes time to develop and I actually thought that the original music that was performed, showed real promise. I enjoyed how the original music reflected each character and would love to see musical motifs for these characters developed further. If the show does have future performances with the original music brought to forefront of the musical then something really unique could be delivered.
The cast were a cast of 10, with the narrator played by Samantha Richards and we followed the stories of Adam played by Jason Kadji, Ben played by Charles Tatman and Emily played by Natasha Mould. Despite the focus being on these characters it truly felt like an ensemble piece and each of them excelled on stage, from tugging at our heartstrings with their interpretation of care home residents to the moments they were literally leaping across the stage. Having a cast of this calibre on stage really does hammer home the point, just how hard performers have to train to get to the skill level where they can pull off performances of this kind. With the focus of this show being on the performers story it is even more important to have a cast that can showcase this and the casting of the show was one of the successes.
2020 The Musical has the makings of a promising show and I genuinely wish Natasha Mould, Richard Vanrye and their team every luck in developing it. The UK always needs new musical theatre and it is even more desperate for this after our drought year. I therefore put out this plea to my readers that if it isn’t 2020 the Musical you go to see then please do support new writing and new British theatre.