Equally is a new musical, of and for today, in which twenty-somethings wrestle with the problems of love and its consequences.
It is an ambitious production in terms of size; there’s a cast of eleven, and the music is provided by a five-piece band (led, with meticulous care, by Simon Lambert). Set designer Naomi Hodgson has given us a set with a broad and flexible open space, which can double as a club or restaurant, but also a shop interior (where the two female leads, Orianna and her friend Lila, work) as well as the interior of Orianna’s flat. There is also an elevated walkway which comes into play as a kind of transitional space where portentous things can and do happen.
The music, this being a musical of its time, is closer to Robbie Williams than to the classic theatre musical tradition, and while it is always impressively delivered and appropriate, it perhaps lacks any true ‘stop you in your tracks’ moments. The songs are good, competent album tracks, rather than hit singles, but they do have a lot of life about them, particularly in the second half, when the whole ensemble is used to better effect.
The plot begins with some mysterious chemistry between the would-be rock star Tristan (Will Bridges) and the Surrey shop-girl, Orianna (Jennifer Potts). That initial meeting happens in a local bar, the Hand and Spear, Orianna’s regular retreat on a Saturday evening. So far, so good, but the fly in the ointment is the fact that Orianna, despite her youthful good looks, is married to her long-term partner, Dillon (Shaun Chambers).
Orianna and Dillon married young and have a past tragedy to cope with (maybe this is all that’s keeping them together?) in the shape of a baby girl who died in infancy. Up to the point where this is all revealed though, the production exudes charm, most notably in the character of Orianna, who has a “Gavin and Stacey” style of innocence and love of life. It was difficult to be quite so enamoured of Will Bridges’ rock star, who seems a bit too needy at times, for all his outspoken sincerity.
Then add into the mix, the city good-time girl, Lila (Ambra Caserotti) who gets most of the good lines and won’t be satisfied with a pizza in front of the telly on a Saturday night. She finds herself attracted to the recklessly cynical Dillon, who works in TV and doesn’t seem to know what he wants or how to find it, whether at work or in his personal life.
There’s nothing particularly new or radical in all this (though a song about Robert Louis Stevenson was unpredictable) but it is all attractively played and the band take their big moments well, especially when getting rocky at the beginning of Act two, and director Tori Allen-Martin takes lot of care to establish atmosphere throughout.
Overall, Equally is probably just a little too long and doesn’t quite have enough charm to be absolutely convincing, especially as it lacks one really big number, but maybe this is a generational thing and twenty-somethings will feel hugely for these characters, and take them to their hearts.
Equally is playing at the Cockpit Theatre until 6 April 2014
Reviewed by Michael Spring