Saturday, 16 June 2018

REVIEW: It’s Only Life at the Union Theatre

We all deal with heartache/heartbreak in our own ways. Some stuff their faces with choc or ice cream, others turn to yoga or other ‘spiritual’ activities, often people will reinvent themselves to some degree with a new haircut or a new wardrobe, and some people seek refuge in the note that Stephen Sondheim once wrote them which they carefully place on their bedside table. (That’s not me by the way..) John Bucchino wrote songs - and thank goodness that he did. 30 years worth of ‘life’ and 30 years spent skilfully and articulately encapsulating his experiences of love, for no specific purpose and certainly not with a musical in mind. In 2004 however, “It’s Only Life” came to life and its currently being revived at the Union Theatre.

The beauty of this piece is that it allows each production to interpret the show as they wish, and maybe that’s testament to the strength of the songs themselves and how they seem to speak to everyone. So universal are the words and the music that accompany that anything layered on top, serves to contextualise the particular story that is being told this time round.

In this instance, it’s a story of love in the modern age, and how difficult that can be. There are some elements of retrospection as Jennifer Harding and Noel Sullivan in one number, glance on at Sammy Graham and Will Carey but what overrides everything, is an immense playfulness throughout; ‘Love Will Find You In Its Time’ takes on a whole new meaning when the lyrics “another selection, another rejection” are sung to along to the swiping finger of what one can only assume (or dread) to be Tinder. ‘That Smile’ becomes an hilarious sequence of unrequited lovers who each hopefully chase the other, in a Midsummer-Night’s-Dream-style love erm, pentagon? ‘A Powerful Man’ tells a very unsettling tale, where lyrics such as “think of your career, and tell him what you think he wants to hear” ring particularly true. But rather than shy away, director Tania Azevedo dishes some of the most excruciating lines out to the women in the cast, and the inherent irony becomes even more enjoyable as they tear down the bastard. 

The movement is slick but simple, and yet there are some moments of lightness and poignancy that has been achieved in the choreography in such a small and, one can only imagine, restrictive space. Justin Williams’ design is busy with the mundanities of home life suspended on the walls as if frozen in a moment in time – all in a pale wash with bold strips of colour which strike through.

The cast, however, really bring this piece to life. Jennifer Harding captures a
touching reminiscence in ‘Sweet Dreams’ and then amusingly transforms into the coy, and not so keen pursued in ‘That Smile.’ Jordan Shaw demonstrates a fantastic vocal range, Noel Sullivan a perfect finish with his rendition of ‘Grateful’ and Will Carey’s bedside table was explained to us with real verve and impishness. Particularly impressive throughout was Sammy Graham, who fully embodied the spirit with which each song was written – she felt it and we felt it. 

Bucchino’s lyrics are staggeringly poetic, and they paint a vivid and expressive picture of everything it means to be in (and out of) love. 

Review by Chester Clark

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Unreserved | Price of Ticket: £22

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