Wednesday, 24 July 2019

REVIEW: The View UpStairs at The Soho Theatre

The View UpStairs by Max Vernon has just opened at The Soho Theatre on Dean Street. From the moment that casting was announced, I was desperate to see it, despite not having a clue what it was about or even what it was.

The show is an ‘interpretive account of a true event of a notoriously unsolved arson fire that took place at a gay bar called the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans on June 24th 1973.’ The first thing that should be said is the poignancy of this piece of theatre. Recently, there has been a massive increase in the production of ‘gay plays’ but the writing, from Max Vernon, in this particular piece, cleverly puts a spotlight on the lives of LGBTQ+ people in 1973 and 2019 , literally next to each other on stage. It also poses a serious, yet frightening question; is life as a minority these days that much better than it was back then? Yes, things have changed and evolved, but there is still such a safety concern for our community and lives being lost every day due to social media bullying and hate crime attacks amongst many other scary realities. 

Whilst the show has dark subject matter, it’s not depressing from beginning to end. In fact, it takes you on a bit of an emotional journey. A journey with lots of laughter. The majority of the laughter and joy comes from Henri, played by Carly Mercedes Dyer. A character with big hair, a big voice and a big attitude. Dyer nails both her comic timing and vocals throughout and leaves you wanting to know more about her story - her character being one of the least explored in this production. 

Talking of ‘leaving you wanting more’, Cedric Neal delivers the most insane vocals as Willie, but nowhere near enough to leave us satisfied. I selfishly wanted him to just sing a stand alone solo so we could listen to those dulcet tones for a few minutes uninterrupted. For what he lacks in solo vocals, he certainly makes up for with characterisation and sass. Well developed and truthful, he really made me feel for him - even when he didn’t require us to do so. 

Arguably led by Tyrone Huntley, who is sensational as always, this cast is well rounded and completely dispel the rumour that musical theatre performers cannot act. While their vocals are second to none, everybody’s performance is led by acting, which is refreshing to see in this ‘belt and riff’ dominated industry. 

Declan Bennett is one of the greatest actors I have seen in recent years. His presence on stage made me feel on edge, despite being sat two rows from the back - something which I don’t feel often. One of the seating options in this production is to be sat on stage. However, you could see two of these patrons being left shaken when Bennetts character, Dale, boils over toward the end of the piece. A bitter sweet testament to his performance. 

In terms of the creative aspects of The View UpStairs, I really enjoyed the
simplistic, yet detailed, set. Simplistic in the way of being just one set that doesn’t change at all but that one room is so detailed and realistic that it’s almost transports you to the UpStairs Lounge. The sound design had moments of difficulty but was generally great and natural. My only criticism would be, at times, the music feels disjointed and unstable but things like this are expected in new pieces of theatre. 

The View UpStairs is definitely a show that I would see again and recommend to peers and readers. I feel the marketing has been poor for this production and i’m really hoping that this does not stunt the growth and success of this little, poignant piece of theatre.

Review by Lucas Wang 

Rating: ★★★★ 

Seat: K9  | Price of Ticket: £38.50
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