By Tom Wells
On at The Bush Theatre (London) Until 22nd Dec 2018
‘Gig Theatre’ feels like it’s a relatively new concept, mixing the arts of theatrical storytelling with live music ‘gigs’, but in reality, this blurring of the lines of musical and gig can go back to pieces like John Cameron Mitchell’s seminal Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Although bands and music artists have been mixing visuals and concepts to their shows for years, there seems to be more a move to storytelling and companies like Hull based Middle Child are starting carve out niches in creating new works in this hybrid world. It is hard to place Tom Wells’ new one man play ‘Drip’, although sold a ‘one man musical comedy’ it feels like it dives more into the world of gig theatre. Told through Liam, a 15 year old boy, it places the audience in the role of year 11 schoolchildren and makes for a much more live and immersive event than perhaps a more typical musical. This is not a criticism by any means, it is this active audience role that makes the character come alive and much like Cameron Mitchell’s leading lady, Hedwig, it allows the vulnerability of the character much more space to come out. Liam, played here flawlessly by Andrew Finnigan, tells us about his friend Caz, ‘best friend Caz’ and their journey to create a winning entry for the annual Project Prize at school, which you as an audience are attending. Wells’ writing is so beautifully real and awkward, a style that he has become so well known for in his previous works like My, as a Penguin and Kitchen Sink and whilst dipping his foot into using music in his most recent Broken Biscuits, this feels like a much bigger jump into the form. Along with Finnigan’s subtle and charming performance, the script offers a real warmth and humour without losing the delicate reality of a 15 year old standing in front of a hall full of his peers. What I love about Wells’ work, perhaps more than anything is his constant use of gay or queer characters without bullies and tragedy in tow, which may sound like a silly comment but think about the last time you saw a gay character in theatre that wasn’t dealing with ‘issues’ linked directly to his or her sexuality like coming out, or HIV or prejudice. It is so wonderful to see such a well rounded gay character who is not only ‘proper out’ and comfortable with themselves but also free from harassment.
With music by Matthew Robbins, the songs have a wonderfully amateurish and awkward feel, however it does sometimes feel a little repetitive and although, trying to work with the reality of an amateur songwriting character, I sometimes craved something a little more complex or varied, especially as most kids these days know how to use computer software to compose and record.
Directed by Jane Fallowfield, the piece feels live and in the moment for the most, but every now and again feels a little too well rehearsed considering the context and the ending lacks the stakes needed to really make us believe Liam was to perform his routine (in swim shorts) to a room full of 15 year olds. However, there are fantastic moments of audience interaction, inviting us to wear blue ponchos to become the swimming pool and blow bubbles to represent being under water not to mention the person in charge of ringing a chime lovingly every time we are told about ‘Josh’.
This a small story about an average character in an average world but with Wells’s writing and Finnigan’s performance the story is completely heart warming and wonderfully uplifting.
© Harry Richards 2018