Friday, 19 May 2017

REVIEW: Next Thing You Know at the Etcetera Theatre

I love new musical theatre and this week the Starbuck Theatre Company brings to the Etcetera Theatre ‘Next Thing You Know’ a musical by Drama Desk Award Nominees Salzman and Cunningham. I was excited to see this musical: ‘I Love You Because’ Salzman and Cunningham’s first show, is one of my favourite little gems so I was expecting great things. 

This four hander and a piano sat cosily in the Etcetera's intimate theatre in boho Camden, however, I couldn't help wondering if this would be drowned by space if it was to run in a larger theatre; thus it was a good setting for the performance I was about to watch. The book is the first weak point of this performance; with under developed characters and songs that felt as if they were picked from the discard pile of ‘I Love You Because’,; it really doesn't give the performers a good foundation to build characters the audience can empathise with. 

Sarah Pavlovs' character, Waverley, is a 20something actress/temp worker and bar attendant with dreams of being on the big stage. However her life takes a turn when her survival job turns into a great opportunity and she prepares to leave her dream behind to the astonishment of her boyfriend Darren (Jack Scott-Walker). The couple take a break and that's when she meets Luke (Alex McDonald), a playboy who makes a killer omelette for his ladies the morning after the night before; and after a fling combined with advice from her best friend, Lisa (Dru Stephenson), she finally makes up her mind in the big decision. 

With the characters they are given, I could see the struggle in making these parts a substantial component of the performance. The relationships between the characters are flat and two dimensional as the songs aren't divisive enough to build personality or intent. Although most of the songs are written to sound conversational, it doesn't help when the actors throw away or mumble the end of lines at times. 

Not only did Sarah Pavlovs star in this piece, she was also responsible for the direction which, sadly, was the second weak point of this show. I personally believe a lack of pace between scenes made the whole thing feel stagnant and a better use of lighting would have helped this issue. Along with distracting multi-staging acting I feel the direction techniques used needs to be refined before the next performance. 

The plot, I’m sure is one that hits home with many an audience member; the
quarter life crisis. ‘You don’t want to be a thirty year old with a twenty something’s problems’ resonated through the black box space after being delivered in a scene that attempted to be an argument. It was the main talking point I overheard leaving at the end from other audience members: but there was a much more powerful sub-plot which felt slightly neglected. 

Having come out in her late twenties, Dru Stephenson’s character Lisa is a Lesbian. This is an issue that is still a large topic of conversation in the LGBT community and like most of the points in the script was only touched upon; which was a huge shame as it would have given at least one of the characters more room to develop than what was delivered. 

The production of ‘Next Thing You Know’ certainly needs work, but there are glimmers of hope and success. From Alex McDonald's very quick humour and comic timing to Sarah's passionate Waverley, this isn't a piece to be discarded but don't expect a show stopper. 

The Starbuck Theatre Company is based in the Midlands and brought the musical to the Etcetera theatre for one night only. If you want to catch 'Next Thing You Know' it's visiting The Old Joint Stock in Birmingham, another Intimate venue, later in the year. 

Review by James-Lee Campbell

Rating: ★★
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