Sunday, 13 July 2014

Review: The Confession Room, St James Theatre

“Welcome to the room where your problems are heard”

In this cut-throat theatre world, one takes the opportunity to celebrate new musical theatre writing where one can so there was little hesitation in booking for this one-off concert performance of Dan Looney’s The Confession Room at the St James Theatre’s downstairs studio space. I actually came across Looney as part of an evening celebrating another writer John Kristian last month so it was nice to be able join the dots a little here and see some of his work given theatrical life.

This show received a concept recording from SimG Productions which was released on CD last year when a production also played the Landor for a night and tonight’s show, directed by Paul Foster with musical direction from Tim Evans, used the music from the recording along with excerpts of Patrick Wilde’s book to entertain an audience who’d opted to miss (the first half at least) the theatre of the World Cup final for some genuine musical theatre. 

The ensemble-driven show focuses on a therapy group, full of people who have suffered a range of misfortunes in their relationships, lovelives and lives in general which they share with us all, under the guidance of their long-suffering but ever-tolerant counsellor. With a considerable number of people having signed up to confess, the issues that are blighting their lives stretch from the profoundly moving to the downright ridiculous, lending the overall piece perhaps too big a scope to really work most effectively.

Or maybe it was just that the bawdier side of the sex comedy didn’t really tickle my funnybone. The show has been in development for a while – based on an original idea by Reece Looney and Dan Looney, Wilde was brought in to write the book whilst Sam Champness and Looney (R) provided additional lyrics for Looney (D)’s music and words. Even so, it strains a little too hard for shock value without any underpinning genuine humour so a couple of early numbers don’t quite hit the mark but as the show progresses, along with its emotional range, it works much better. 

The heartrending tales of ‘Perfect’ and ‘Second Chances’ are both soaringly beautiful, Jon Robyns and Stuart Matthew Price delivering perfectly pitched renditions respectively, the female-driven ‘Let Me Just Dream’ harmonises spine-tingingly and the show’s best song ‘Excalibur93’ is given extraordinary pathos by Matthew Rowland’s appealingly nerdish Frank. Throw in a customarily great performance from Rebecca Trehearn (mark my words, she will be HUGE one day) as counsellor Caroline, it’s hard to resist the cumulative warmth of the show by the end.

Looney’s musical talent plays a large part in this, his score is deceptively simple, uncomplicated melodies are layered with intricate instrumentation, counterpointing vocal lines and some gorgeous harmonies to build up into something really engaging. It left me wanting to buy the soundtrack which as to be a good thing, if not necessarily for my wallet! A good evening then, and a show (and composer) to look out for in the future. 

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)

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