REVIEW: High Fidelity (Turbine Theatre) ★★★★★

High Fidelity is only the 2nd production and first musical staged at the new Turbine Theatre and it is utterly brilliant!

The theatre has been set up by Paul Taylor-Mills who is the artistic director. Taylor-Mills in his previous role at The Other Palace was responsible for staging the fabulous Heathers the Musical. With High Fidelity he has again identified a slightly cultish musical and brought it to the London stage. The plot of the musical is wafer thin but really, who cares, when the shows is this much fun!

The original book High Fidelity was released in 1995 by author Nick Hornby who was riding high on the success of his previous novel Fever Pitch, a massive hit which was turned into a 1997 film starring Colin Firth. The plot of Fever Pitch centred on an obsessive Arsenal fan and the book and film arguably kick started the gentrification of the beautiful game; the culmination of which for Arsenal fans is the corporate monstrosity that is the Emirates stadium!!

In High Fidelity, Hornby’s main character is Rob Fleming, owner of Championship Vinyl a north London record shop. The book was made into a film, released in 2000, where the action was moved from Holloway Road to Chicago. It was subsequently adapted for the stage as a musical, keeping the American setting.

In bringing the musical back to London, Taylor-Mills has made the brilliant decision to involve comedian, composer and musician Vikki Stone to adapt the lyrics and return it to its north London roots. The result is an hilarious, very funny, joyful caper of a musical.

Oliver Ormson plays Rob, a total music snob who packages everything into “top 5” lists from music to life experiences. At the start of the show, Rob is dumped by his girlfriend of four years Laura, prompting him to reminisce about his “desert island top five break ups”. The loss of Laura leads Rob to make a half-hearted review of his life while being berated for losing the best woman he has ever had by friend Liz. Rob’s other two “friends” Dick and Barry, (basically guys who hang around the record shop and occasionally work there) appear equally snobbish with their music tastes and join in the constant top 5-ing of everything. They are joined by a third character in the shop, the saddo they all look down on who lives for the occasional view of Rob’s prized 45s (for the younger reader these were vinyl singles!!)

Having left Rob, Laura (Shanay Holmes) moves in with Ian, the man who handled Kurt Cobain’s intervention (see the show – it will make sense!!) while Rob sleeps with someone who slept with Lyle Lovett (which needed a little explaining to my younger viewing companion!)

The performances from every member of the cast are superb. Oliver Ormson is perfect as Rob, telling the story to the audience with a knowing wink. He has a good voice and great comic ability. There is a scene in the second half where he imagines doing a variety of things to Ian which is one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen on stage.

I last saw Shanay Holmes play a brilliant Joanne in Rent and here she is excellent as the frustrated Laura.

Robert Tripolino as Ian puts in a show stealing performance, while Carl Au steals everyone’s hearts as sweet scouser Dick.

All of the cast are brilliant with strong voices and the musical allows each of them to have their moment.

David Shields has done a really good job with the set design, which must have been quite a challenge as the stage area is fairly small.

This was my first trip to the Turbine Theatre, housed in the old Battersea Power Station which is currently being converted and is a mass of scaffolding. There are several new restaurants close by the theatre and once all the building work is completed this will be quite the night-time destination, sitting as it does by the Thames under the twinkle of lights from Chelsea Bridge.

The theatre was a little smaller than I expected and has a bit of a temporary feel to it. The first two rows of “seats” are scattered bean bags, then there is a row of sofas, behind which are regular seats, which are a bit of a tight squeeze, not offering a great deal of leg room. At times, the theatre became quite uncomfortably hot, but hopefully these are just teething issues that will be dealt with as the theatre matures.

Judging by Paul Taylor-Mills choices so far, this is most definitely a theatre to keep an eye on. With High Fidelity he has an absolute hit and I would hope that, as with Heathers, it will move into the West End for a much longer run.

I think a sign of a good show is when you leave thinking “when can I see it again”. My 20-something viewing companion said she would be booking straight away to take some friends and as an older viewer (who spent many a Saturday afternoon hanging around a record store) I will definitely return – perhaps on a bean bag!!

Reviewed by Emma Heath
Photo: Mark Senior

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