Oct 21 2015 | By More

★★★☆☆     Energetic

Church Hill Theatre: Tues 20 – Sat 24 October 2015
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is sufficient speed and energy to Allegro’s Loserville at the Church Hill to make for a satisfactory time, despite what can only be seen as the most unpromising source material.

Elliot Davis and James Bourne’s 2012 musical comes originally from an album by Son of Dork, the band featuring Bourne between his pop apotheosis as one-third of Busted and his third act as part of the boyband mash-up that is McBusted.

Matthew Cleator (Marvin Camden), Andrew Hally (Francis Weir) in Loserville. Photo Nicky Graham

Matthew Cleator (Marvin Camden), and Andrew Hally (Francis Weir). Photo Nicky Graham

The story tells of geeky Michael Dork and his friend Lucas in Loserville, USA, 1971, struggling to meet girls while simultaneously apparently inventing the internet and Star Wars.

Much of the music is the perky, thrashy pop that anyone familiar with Bourne’s work would expect. However, the too-frequent use of reprises only reinforces how similar the songs are melodically, while the lyrics are predictable. The slower numbers are lumpy, anguished, undistinguished, similarly forgettable and even more tiring.

The book, meanwhile, combines a formulaic story of love and betrayal with punning references to Star Wars that quickly pall. Throwaway remarks that would just about fill half a Futurama are stretched out over two hours. Despite the 1971 setting, the preoccupations and slang seem resolutely 21st century, the 70s only being used in order to make some witless ‘predictions’, and as an excuse for suspect attitudes.

In particular, the inclusion of two ‘Yugoslavians’ whose ‘comedy’ fractured English is seemingly the inspiration for Yoda can only be seen either as a frighteningly, jarringly bleak commentary on the horrors that have occurred in the Balkans in the interim, or as a tin-eared misjudgement of shockingly heartless proportions.

a vacuous display of cynicism

All of this, plus the complete lack of attention to any kind of historical truth, could no doubt be dismissed as irrelevant in the face of something that is supposed to be harmless fun aimed at a young audience weaned on High School Musical or Glee. However, that fun is sadly lacking and any audience deserves something far better than such a vacuous display of cynicism. Indeed, the worst thing that could be said is that it all smacks of the sort of thing a couple of well-meaning drama teachers would have cobbled together in the actual 1970s, rather than anything genuinely youthful.

Matt McDonagh (Michael Dork), Tim Pearson (Lucas Lloyd) and company. Photo: Nicky Graham

Matt McDonagh (Michael Dork), Tim Pearson (Lucas Lloyd) and company. Photo: Nicky Graham

Having saddled themselves with this, Allegro do about as well as could reasonably be expected. There is a zip and an energy to the choruses that keeps things moving, with Janice Bruce’s choreography particularly inventive.

Matt McDonagh’s Michael Dork is a genuinely likeable characterisation (albeit more cheesy than geeky) whose puppyish demeanour and leg-flailing dancing go back even further than the 70s to channel Freddie Garrity of the Dreamers. His impressive singing is echoed by Tim Pearson (his best friend Lucas), who is also a capable enough performer to make the character’s moral dilemma seem interesting. Andrew Halley and Matthew Cleator as their friends Francis and Marvin are similarly strong, and are cheerily naive rather than the sleazy specimens they might be.

If all four of them come across as camp musical-comedy archetypes rather than true geeky misfits, it doesn’t really matter. Holly (Rachel Aedy), ‘cursed with brains and beauty’ before she geeks herself up, seems even less of an outsider with her commanding presence and huge voice. Alison Woods’ Leia (no prizes for guessing what icon she supposedly inspires) is just as dominating a performer. Emma Dawson and Michaela Turner turn in strong support as her acolytes.

Cameron Kirby’s comedy timing as spoiled rich kid Eddie is so strong that he does not quite convince as the baddie. This is not helped by having the only accent that does not quite convince. Or by his sidekicks Huey and Wayne (Andrew Jack and Andrew Knox, also displaying excellent timing) being so dumb as to inspire zero dislike – which is down to faults in the material rather than their performances.

This could truthfully be said of much of what is produced here. If it all seems far too long, it is not down to commendable levels of commitment and pizzazz, or to Andy Johnston’s inventive direction. That the music quickly outstays its welcome is not because of any lack of rhythmic oomph from the noisy band under the direction of Thomas McFarlane.

While it is commendable for Allegro to stage a comparatively obscure musical, in this case the reasons why it has failed to meet success so far are all too obvious. There is a great deal of vigour in the production, but sadly not enough to make a silk purse.

Running time 2 hours 15 mins (one interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Tuesday 20 – Saturday 24 October 2015
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinee Saturday 2.30 pm

Allegro Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/allegromusical
Tickets from https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/allegro

Loserville Ensemble. Photo: Nicky Graham

Loserville Ensemble. Photo: Nicky Graham


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