REVIEW: NOW AND THEN (Above the Stag Theatre) ★★★★

 Now and Then is a new musical written by Ronnie Larsen, with original music and lyrics by Dennis Manning.

We find ourselves in what can only be a country-and-Western setting, and we’re ready for some romancing. It’s 1978 and Greg, a university student and aspiring comic, is hosting one of his popular open-mic nights. Nervous but ultra-talented Daniel takes to the stage, adorned with cowboy hat and boots, and so begins a somewhat unlikely romance between two very different individuals.

Now And Then takes us through various stages of their life together: their first kiss, a proposal, the anti-climactic ‘adult’ jobs and the Christmas that was nearly their breaking point. Told through a duplication technique of three sets of actors representing Greg and Daniel at different ages, we gain an intimate insight into their life together, witnessing the true meaning of mutual growth and perseverance. There’s nothing like a decade-spanning, perspective-reminding tragi-romance (equipped with catchy country tunes) to double check you still have feelings.

The pairings worked exquisitely well, with a bond clearly already formulated between the cast members. I was particularly moved by the performance of Rhys Taylor, whose portrayal of the complex and conflicting emotions of middle-aged Greg felt both authentic and sensitively approached, plus he possesses a strong vocal range. Richard Costello (older Daniel) and Leo Andrew (older Greg) contributed both an energy and a sense of artistic maturity to the production that originates from dual legacies of acting experience. This pairing was faultless, personifying the ideal that many of us hold about growing older gracefully with someone.

The audience leave with a multitude of lessons taken from this story. The impermanence of relationships and the passing of time, reminding us to make the most of every meaningful situation and interaction while we have the chance. Additionally, the reminder that persevering with a relationship through difficult life situations can be worthwhile, particularly in the face of mental health struggles. Indeed, the topic of Daniel’s mental state – the value he places upon his success as a musician and therefore credibility as a partner – is one of the key themes of the play, highlighting how an individual’s sense of self-worth and the nature of depression can affect a relationship. Greg and Daniel’s relationship matures and develops at a realistic pace, with many aspects truly relatable to the average audience member.

The first act could benefit from some structural readjustment, as it feels a little bit ‘blocky’ and regimented in how it cuts between the different generations of our two characters. Contrastingly, the second half was a mass of interweaving narratives, switching between decades and conversations and even interweaving different generations of the same characters – this half felt more organic, and reflected the complexity of Greg and Daniel’s relationship. I’d love to see this production scaled up, with a few innovative set changes to add more visual creativity, and perhaps an opening scene led by the older duo that then launches us back to the 70s.

Now And Then is an evening that promises to warm even the coldest of hearts, leaving you with a renewed perspective on how important it is to build and work upon meaningful relationships that you hold dear.

Reviewed by Laura Evans
Photo: Gaz Photography

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