Writer: Peter Polycarpou
Director: Michael Strassen
Our nostalgia for the music of bygone eras has been especially strong in the last year, reaching back beyond Britney and Britpop to the heart-warming sounds of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. For stage star Peter Polycarpou, the discovery of a tattered 1920s songbook in an antique shop reawakened a love for the era and his show Falling Stars performed with Sally Ann Triplett is a homage to the great composers of the early twentieth century.
Staged as a cabaret performance in the Union Theatre, this 50-minute production, returning to Stream Theatre for two weeks, was quickly reworked as a digital piece when its live run was prevented by another lockdown on the first day of rehearsal. Its charm is immediately apparent and with many of the songs written in the years following the 1918 pandemic, its relevance to 2021 is stark.
Perhaps most noticeable are the many love songs in which the singer yearns for a lost romance, feels the distance between them or is asked to ‘smile though your heart is breaking’, and it is during these moments that Falling Stars really pulls at the heart strings. The simplicity of its intimate two-hander structure ensures that Polycarpou and Triplett’s enthusiasm for this music envelops the audience.
Structured around different composers beginning with clear favourite Charlie Chaplin and moving on to Frederic Weatherly and Lew Brown, the performers provide some biographical detail behind the songs as well their historical context. Connected by inclusion in Polycarpou’s battered songbook, this approach helps to weave a larger story around the individual choices while giving a flavour of the era in which they were first produced.
Many of these will be incredibly familiar, from Yes, We Have No Bananas in which Polycarpou plays a Greek grocer, to a brief excerpt from Tea for Two and others, many of which have had a long performance life across the decades since they were composed. Some of the most affecting moments include Polycarpou’s tender rendering of the 1916 piece Roses of Picardy or Triplett’s interpretation of Irving Berlin’s What’ll I Do? – which, although unremarked, was also the theme tune for the sitcom where Polycarpou made his name.
There is a warm chemistry between the performers that evokes a long friendship, making them both inviting hosts and a well-suited musical pairing, particularly in the emotive You Know You Belong To Somebody Else, So Why Don’t You Leave Me Alone by James V Monaco and Arthur Freed, in which Triplett plays the bruised lover singing in English while Polycarpou provides a French translation that dovetails perfectly.
Falling Stars doesn’t quite have all its segues in place so it tends to cut to black abruptly between musical collections, but it is easy to imagine what a delightful hour this will be on stage. But for now, as this first draft enjoys a Stream Theatre encore, the digital version of Falling Stars is a chance to luxuriate in the music of the early twentieth century and the enjoyable cabaret performances of Triplett and Polycarpou that will warm any winter afternoon.
Runs here until 14 February 2021