Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Review Superhero

Book by Michael Conley
Music by Joseph Finlay
Lyrics by Richy Hughes

Mad About The Girl

Colin Bradley (Michael Rouse) has arrived for a hearing at the Royal Courts Of Justice. He's in one of the modern pine courtrooms (a simple but very effective set design by Georgia De Grey), nervously reading from the index cards he has already prepared.

Colin's also trying to obey the instructions of his solicitor, Rupert, even though he's the one supposedly instructing the solicitor. It's a tug-of-love case as Colin is trying to win custody of his young teenage daughter Emily whose career-minded Mum Christine wants to emigrate with her to the USA.

The show, directed by Adam Lenson, traces Colin's own journey starting with him being part of a happy family, leaving a job in his parents' construction industry business to becoming a stay-at-home Dad.  Then he has his head turned by apparently unexpectedly landing a leading role in an amateur theatre production and his life as a divorced Dad follows.

There is a committed performance from Michael Rouse as Colin and an excellent three-piece band led by musical director Joe Bunker on piano. Molly Lopresti on percussion contributes much to the play's atmosphere and Stephen Street is on bass.

Thinking about it, TLT has probably only seen one other one-man musical when Benjamin Scheuer came to London with The Lion, a very personal musical memoir of his own relationship with his father.

Superhero is a fictional story told in flashback but it draws mightily on stereotyping the Fathers For Justice campaign and Colin, although the double-edged nature of support from a more militant Dad might have been intriguing if more explored.

Otherwise Superhero follows a fairly predictable path with some clever elements allying Colin's own story with the am dram musical which triggers his adultery and the break up of his marriage. It also puts together a number of recognizable musical theatre styles - Boubil and Schönberg among them - with a few stand out songs, including Other People's Parents and All American Dad. We just wished we could have liked it better as a whole.

It seemed to miss putting some interesting junctures into song in favour of more obvious moments, so for us there was a feel of plodding cliché. We thought also perhaps some of the songs may have come  first and the plot followed after.

The atmosphere of the am dram company is amusingly enough conjured up with the traditional fey director but the Victorian atmosphere of the Royal Courts of Justice and the lone man in the echoing Gothic building foyer is nowhere to be found. The court room could be anywhere in the world and we weren't convinced by the evocation of some London landmarks.

Colin is full of hope for the hearing but then the court's decision seems to fall into a pre-decided template and creates a worse situation for him. We're sure these peaks and troughs are indeed the genuine experience of many such fathers.
So it's a pity the see-saw of hope, the beginning of suspicion, the attempt to will away the suspicion, the realisation that nobody is listening and the reality dawning isn't embodied more viscerally in a song. 

This appears to be very much a narrative musical blending a fairly traditional estranged parents and beloved daughter scenario, a transatlantic and European subtext and a breakdown with a wish-fulfilment ending.

However the way the content of the show is arranged made us feel we were always on the outside looking in and much of the narration contained within the songs felt strangely flat.

Still the performance, direction, design, lighting by Sam Waddington and sound by Andy Hinton are all fine. But it felt like a pitch for a show rather than the show itself. It's an amber light.

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