Friday, 12 May 2017

REVIEW: Paper Hearts at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Combining feel-good vibes with a motivation-boosting plot and a cute finale, Paper Hearts is the musical love story of the year. 

Young bookshop attendant Atticus Smith (Adam Small) is an aspiring writer, with plenty of talent but particularly low self-esteem, and his skills are called into action when the business gets into trouble by the hand of his father Roger (Alasdair Baker). The difficult relationship between father and son is sweetened by the arrival in the shop of Roger's chosen manager Lilly Sprocket (Gabriella Margulies) and her romance with Atticus is intertwined with the plot of his manuscript Angel Star. The Cold War adventures of protagonists Yanna (Sinead Wall) and Isaac (Matthew Atkins) give breath to the main action and offer a metaphorical counterpart to Atticus and Lilly's misunderstandings.

As a single act, this high-street musical had a successful month-long run at last year's Edinburgh festival and has now been developed into a full-length show for the London stage, before heading to Hamburg, in Germany. Four years in the making, this is the brainchild of self-taught writer and composer Liam O'Rafferty, who worked on it whilst running a graphic design agency in Swindon. 

Compared by some critics to Tony-winner musical Once, the show follows a simple storyline and an original score, that goes from the all-female Rhythm & Blues 'Shame on You' to the all-male British rock tune 'Waiting', together with Russian folk melodies, pop ensemble numbers and ballads, like the heart-warming 'Stand Up'. Many cast members double as musicians – led on the keyboard by musical director Daniel Jarvis – and the singers offer a brilliant performance, with unique and well-distinct voices. Adam Small nails the lead role, maintaining freshness despite a two-hour stage presence. Sinead Wall's vocal skills, as Atticus' girlfriend Alex and Russian heroine Yanna, is particularly impressive. A few microphone glitches risked spoiling the sound quality, which was overall good for the intimate auditorium of the Upstairs at The Gatehouse. 

The unconvincing set should have given more emphasis to O'Rafferty's crucial
location choice of a bookshop. The steel platforms could have been replaced by a wooden floor and the printed canvas in the background would have added a realistic note, if representing bookshelves instead of large, but undecipherable, printed words. 

Paper Hearts in an excellent choice for a light-hearted night out and a breath of fresh air amongst the horde of socially-engaged and personal dramas, which populate the London's stage. Its original setting and catchy score are staple features and, as a universal piece of musical theatre, is bound to become a British classic. 

Review by Marianna Meloni 

Rating: ★★★★
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