first night

Get Your Sh*t Together

Sophie Allen enjoys an evening of musical comedy with TDTC's first show of the year.

TDTC’s first show of the year, Get Your Sh*t Together, tells the story of Alex (Joe McWilliam), a down-on-his-luck twenty-something who’s just lost both his girlfriend and his job, and in the process has been forced to move into a new flat, a hovel above a pub. As the plot unfolds, we see his sisters, optimist Annabelle (Maddie Graham) and the more cynical Lana (Jazzy Price) trying to help him get his life back on track, all to the soundtrack of Ernest and the Keen Beans, the “super-edgy” band (Edward Hislop, Millie Davies and Louise Webster) rehearsing for their gig in the pub. Heartfelt and honest, it provided the perfect antidote to end-of-term stress and a wonderful reassurance to fellow twenty-somethings who perhaps don’t have their own sh*t together.

On entering the theatre, the tone was immediately established with the band already in position, quietly chatting and scrolling on their phones, a picture of oversized denim and offensively patterned shirts. The set was simple yet effective, with the apartment wall thinly decorated and crudely painted—although intentional, it was somewhat glaring. However, praise must be given for the clear use of space. Spread over two levels, the flat above and the bar below, the staging was used to great effect. The space was clearly defined and remained so throughout the piece. Even when the actors traversed from one level to another, sometimes mid-song, it didn’t feel unnatural or stilted. Furthermore, the decision to have the lower level slightly raised, not just at floor level, made a big difference not only in eliminating potential sightline problems, but also in creating a clear boundary between actor and audience, in congruence with the show’s self-aware nature. 

This is merely one element of Culkin’s direction to be admired. It is hard to believe this is her musical theatre directorial debut—I actually had to double-check before sitting down to write. Transitions from scene to song and back again were near perfect, making for continuous action and few drops in pace, something hard to do when the songs are so plain (note: there are no jazz hands or huge belty numbers). Culkin managed to do what few directors can with musicals, the songs seemed to only be sung when necessary and were performed so naturally that I actually forgot the actors were singing.

Further commendation is due for creating such believable relationships on stage. The play is such an ensemble piece that each relationship is as important as the other, and they were treated as such. Price and Graham balanced well in their contrasting sister roles with brother Alex caught in the middle. Though being at the centre of the plot, Alex didn’t really have much to do, though this is more a critique of the play itself and McWilliam managed to draw out every bit of comedy that he could. His song “Secret Santa” was really very funny. As the show’s smaller characters, bartender Sam (George Rexstrew) and Alex’s love interest Marguerite (Lily Ratnavel) could have been forgotten about, but the actors carried their performances with such aplomb that this was never a concern. Ratnavel must be given special mention for her fabulous characterisation and hilarious awkwardness. Her solo song was particularly good, and she managed to keep our interest despite the slightly poor writing.

The same could be said of the band; onstage for every moment yet rarely involved directly with the action, they could have become distracting or even entirely redundant between songs. However, this was not the case, and their interactions with the ‘main’ cast rarely seemed artificial. In contrast to Davies and Hislop’s selective use of reactions, Webster sometimes overacted, and in moments I found this detracting from the scenes, but for the most part they struck the correct balance. They also provided opportunity to acknowledge the suspension of disbelief so necessary for musicals when the characters break into song, providing backing vocals with knowing looks, much to the soloists’ surprise and the audience’s delight. Hislop comedically stole the show; his deadpan humour and savage side-eye were often the winning ingredients in these interactions, and frequently left the audience in fits of laughter.

Musically, the piece was strong. Special mention must go to Davies for her solo song—the only one not essential to the plot and therefore with little storyline to hide behind—she gave a vocally flawless performance, providing us with an enthralling musical interlude. Another highlight was the duet between Price and Rexstrew; the characterisation and chemistry (and necessary awkwardness) between them was outstanding, but more than that, their voices balanced together beautifully. Despite this, the ability to vocally blend would be my one criticism of the music overall. While obviously a very good technical singer, Graham’s bright soprano tended not to balance among the other smoother-toned voices. In both whole-cast numbers and especially the duet with Price, some of the harmonies were overpowered. However, this is a very easy change to make.

All must be commended for a solid first-night performance, also one of the most technically sound (pun intended) that I have seen. Overall, the show was light-hearted, endearing and just really enjoyable. My biggest disappointment of the night was that the theatre wasn’t more full—so get your sh*t together and buy a ticket.

9 December 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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