first night

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.

Sarah Peters finds herself in the unusual location of Hatfield bar for Lion Theatre Company's production of Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Robert's musical

The College bar.  That special place for socials, for drinking games, for the pre-lash before Klute.  That special place for…theatre?  Well apparently so.  The unlikely venue of Hatfield bar is the setting for the beautifully orchestrated I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Finally: a musical that focuses on the standard heterosexual relationship.  The first date, the sex, the break-ups, the make-ups, the in-laws, the marriage, the kids.  And all in a tidy hour and a half.  


The first thing to note is the musical itself has very few flaws, apart from perhaps a lack of an actual plot. DiPietro’s lyrics are unbelievably clever and Roberts’ catchy melodies give an actor so much with which to work, while ensuring that the audience are constantly entertained.  But I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is, on the face of it, a collection of songs with very little dialogue and ever-changing characters.  That is an instant challenge for any Director to consider, but Katarzyna Zmarzly and her cast pull it off beautifully, with certain performers proving that they would not be out of place on a West End stage.


The entrance of four gowned cast members singing ‘a capella’ in perfect harmony is a fantastic opening to the show and strikes the audience member with the sheer talent of these four individuals. Ivan Kolosov’s musical direction should be noted instantly, for the harmony is so perfectly in tune. He and the cast have clearly worked exceptionally hard to ensure that all ensemble pieces are just that: an ensemble – and thus not one voice stands out during these full ‘chorus’ numbers.  So rarely do we find this ensemble sound in such a small musical theatre cast in Durham, where such an intimate setting, such as the Hatfield Bar, would expose any ensemble weakness completely. 


The ‘first date’ section succeeding this however is where we start to separate the men from the boys; or rather, the men from the girls. The performances of Adele Pope and Tori Longdon instantly shine out from the crowd (of four).  That’s not to say that David Spencer and Tom Eklid aren’t strong; their voices are adequate and their acting is amusing; but performing opposite these two ladies is no enviable feat.


This view is affirmed in the ‘sing off’ between the girls and the boys, as Longdon and Pope really come into their own during the girl-power-esque, hilarious ‘Single Man Drought’.  Meanwhile, the boys lag behind a little with an okay-ish offering of ‘Cause I’m A Guy’.  The boys’ vocals aren’t weak, but I felt that occasionally both boys were a little empty behind the eyes, which is more of a reflection on the Zmarzly’s direction as opposed to Eklid and Spencer’s abilities; there are moments throughout the show where they prove to be far more expressive.  Perhaps a little more work on the characterisation of the two male characters might not have gone amiss.


Out of all four, Adele Pope shines throughout the show as a truly incredible performer.  Her bridesmaid’s lament of “Always A Bridesmaid, Never a Bride” was acted exceptionally throughout, and the vocals were flawless.  Pope’s portrayal of the nervous divorcee making her first dating video was truly entertaining and she managed to show a great depth of character and deep anguish through the final few lines.  Similarly, Tori Longdon’s ‘He Called Me’ portrayed the vulnerability and angst that every girl feels at some point whilst they eagerly wait for that first phone-call (men, take note), whilst bringing out the humour of the situation with superb singing throughout.  Her characterisation was spot on for almost every one of her songs and she is a pleasure to watch.  Eklid really excels during the scene with the misunderstanding between wine and condoms, and effectively toes that all-too-familiar line between exceptional awkwardness and wanting to impress.  Spencer proves through the stunning ‘Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You’ that his vocals are anything but weak, but he has been let down hugely in this song by a lack of direction as he just appears to sing it without much concept of the yearning on which the song focuses, which is a great shame. 


Zmarzly uses the space really well, but sadly, the audience are constantly reminded that this is indeed Hatfield bar – as the Hatfield ‘lads’ (namely a rugby social last night) brag about how many tries they scored/girls they slept with (although we won’t give them too much credit…).  The loud noises from the bar area are not combated by the wooden partition, although kudos to the production team for trying.  However, the cast did well to ignore this and never let their performances be affected by this clearly aggravating chatter.   The middle aisle effectively integrated the audience into the action – although it was possibly used a little too much.  On this note, the male actors must be made aware that occasionally they have come out of character before they have got all the way to the end of the aisle, so much so that for someone who was sitting right at the back (and sadly, I happened to be that annoying person), it was somewhat interesting to hear the actor’s thoughts on how that particular scene went…


Overall, I came out of the performance saying that it was very good.  And it was.  The girls are stunning and the boys are pretty good.  The actors are let down a little by such a limited performance space, although it is unclear what they might have gained from a much larger space, and Zmarzly has done very well with the venue that she has.  The musical direction is fantastic and, most importantly, the audience loved it.  But just a quick tip if you’re planning on heading down to Hatfield this week (and I think you should): get there early or be prepared to sit on a table/stand.  And lads, leave the drinking for this week, eh? Culture yourselves and go see a show. You know you’re interested. You’re reading the review…


2 December 2010

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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