REVIEW: THE FIX (Union Theatre) ★★★★

The Fix‘Whatever it takes to win’

Now let me be honest, there is no prospect more exciting to a Musical Theatre graduate than an evening spent seeing a revival in a newly spruced up theatre. Atomicus Entertainment present The Fix at The Union Theatre provided the perfect opportunity to get my own “fix” of a brilliant, dark and thought provoking piece of Musical Theatre. Originally premiered in 1997 on the West End, The Fix, with book and lyrics by John Dempsey and music from Dana P. Rowe, tells a story sewn together with lies, family pressures and addiction, where people will do whatever it takes to win. The story centres around Violet Chandler who, following the death of her husband soon before his Presidential election, plots with her brother-in-law, Grahame Chandler, to replace the deceased with her highly unqualified son, Cal Chandler, to run for the role of (a fictionalised) President. Still with me? It sounds more complicated than it is…

A clever soundscape containing key political speeches from recent years begins the show, heightening the plot’s fickle themes and reminding the audience of our current political climate (do we need reminding?!). This venue is intimate and raw with a wonderful four piece band, a brick upstage wall and an American flag draped over a small table, accessorising this black box space. Simplicity really was key, with director Michael Strassen choosing what I feel is a more stripped back approach, within both his staging and choreography; adding to the immersive and intimate nature of the show.

Musical Direction from Josh Sood was also simply accomplished and perfectly put together. I would like to commend a show that used a live band whilst being able to audibly hear performers who are not wearing microphones – a real dramatic art! The ensemble were a cohesive and hugely talented force, creating beautiful and haunting harmonies together with emotionally connected vocals that really brought life to the space. The staccato choreography and direction from Strassen married perfectly with the music, demonstrating that the creative team clearly thought through each and every moment within the show, adding texture and depth. One example of this precision was the use of ensemble to create a scene within an elevator, using nothing but two trolleys, a bell, and great physical timing from Sarah-Marie Maxwell and Francesca Leyland.

This show has a team of renowned leads with charismatic Fra Fee creating the easy to love, yet destructive character of Cal Chandler. His fragility was complimented by Madalena Alberto, playing the ‘hippier’ Tina McCoy, who being both broken and serene, jars with the ‘all American’ Presidential picture the Chandler family are desperate to create, no matter the cost. Ken Christiansen was a strong and equally troubled, smooth-vocalled villain. Lucy Williamson provided a fine example of a feisty female lead, entertaining the audience with sarcastic retorts and performing with real truth as the musical reaches its deadly conclusion.

This show felt current and dangerously close to home, with repeating musical phrases that sound both familiar and unnerving simultaneously. If I am being brutally honest, there was a slight drag of action and drive towards the end of Act 1 as the exposition was established, although this could have been due to lower audience numbers at my particular performance. Also, at times it’s almost as if The Fix can’t decide its genre and bats between a rock-ier, serious tone and more mad-cap, self-referential musical style. (Although I wonder if this provides a metaphor from the writer, where the contrasting styles mirror the emotional rollercoaster of drug addiction?)

Regardless, if you appreciate musicals that are funny, raw and politically relevant, then this show is the one for you. Emotional and thought-provoking whilst boasting the ‘state of the art’ re-developments at the new Union Theatre. And for those of us who are a little put off by sitting in a dark theatre during this heat wave, I can confirm that the air-conditioning is fabulous.

Review by Lisa MacGregor
Photo: Darren Bell

The Fix plays at Union Theatre until 6 August 2016