Review - High Fidelity at the Turbine Theatre
A big welcome, first of all, to the Turbine Theatre, another new theatre created in the bowels of a South London railway arch, like the Union, the Above the Stag and Southwark Playhouse's previous home underneath London Bridge station, amongst others. Though the rumble of trains overhead is an inevitable competing distraction at times, there's ample compensation in the cosy atmosphere that has been created. And like those other venues, it could be another useful home for new musicals or ones previously unseen over here.
Which brings me, disappointingly, to High Fidelity, based on the London-set novel by Nick Hornby that was adapted into a Broadway musical in 2006. In a review for the New York Times of the original production, Ben Brantley described it as a show that "erases itself from your memory even as you watch it." In fact it was erased from Broadway's memory after a run of just ten days from opening night, a total of 14 performances.
Of course, it's possible that the show is ripe for re-evaluation, not least for those of us who believe that its composer Tom Kitt is responsible for the music for the best Broadway score of the first decade of this century, Next to Normal, that followed in 2009.
And the Turbine's artistic director Paul Taylor-Mills hasn't just pulled it out of the reject drawer, but given the show a British make-over, relocating the setting back to London in Vikki Stone's re-write of Broadway writer David Lindsay-Abaire's book to the musical. The result, he writes hopefully in a programme note, is "a glorious hybrid of a rock concert, The Great British Bake Off and scream-at-the-telly sentiments of Love Island all in one show."
As that mash-up of influences and intentions suggests, it feels more like a throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach. But while Tom Jackson Greaves, as both director and choreographer, fields an engaging cast who give it their considerable all, the tone is all over the shop, in this case literally so, as it is set in an anachronistically-surviving vinyl record store off the Holloway Road in North London. As with the failing florist on Skid Row, New York in Little Shop of Horrors, a whole day passes without a single sale, giving its proprietor Rob ample time to reflect on his broken heart after girlfriend Laura walks out on him.
The show revolves around his serial attempts to win her back. But sadly neither the book nor the songs generate enough passion or energy to make us want to care. A punchy band, led by Paul Schofield, occupies a platform over the stage, nicely designed by David Shields as a recreation of the Holloway record store. Oliver Ormson lends Rob an affably conflicted charm, but I was left equally conflicted by what the show was trying to tell us.
High Fidelity tickets are available now.