FeaturedMusicalReviewSouth East

Here You Come Again – Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Reviewer: Dan English

Writers: Bruce Vilanch, Gabriel Barre and Tricia Paoluccio

Additional Material: Jonathan Harvey

Director: Gabriel Barre

Socially distanced Kevin finds help in an unlikely source, Dolly Parton herself, as he navigates a painful personal situation amid the pandemic in this unusual production, Here You Come Again.

It is a production which is essentially Kevin’s fever dream, who is wrought with depression and confined to his parents’ attic, his childhood bedroom, during the COVID pandemic. Eager to escape his confines, super Dolly fan Kevin finds support in an unlikely source as Dolly Parton explodes out of his poster to try and set him on the right path. It is a bold take to try and create a musical out of just two characters, yet the warmth and affection between the pair, as the piece unfolds, is enough to glue the production together.

Here You Come Again arrives in the UK fresh from multiple tours in the US and has called in hit writer Jonathan Harvey to give the show a flavour of UK culture, meaning that some of the UK COVID experiences are referenced and teased, such as the nightly ‘clap for heroes’ craze. It is a script which rightly does not take itself too seriously, breaking out into flamboyant dance routines, nailing quick one-liners and even gently mocking some of Parton’s more macabre hits. The show’s jokes work, and it is obvious that there is a lot of affection for Parton poured into the piece.

Gabriel Barre’s design works well to throw us into the chaos of Kevin’s attic. The space feels claustrophobic, heightening Kevin’s growing isolation and anxiety, yet still malleable to enable the well-tuned band to enter and exit with ease. The design also complements the multiple illusions created by Richard Pinner, whose tricks and flicks help to bring a sparkle to the show and evoke a similar sense of wonder to that which Dolly inspires in Kevin.

Steven Webb is the downtrodden Kevin, a hapless and hopeless comic broken-hearted, who himself says he’s the wrong side of forty, and struggling to find his place in the world. Webb captures this fragile character quite well and does manage to carve out a moving delivery amid the very thin plot line. What Webb excels at his stage presence; whether delivering comic lines or strutting eye-catching routines, Webb is entirely at home here.

Alongside Webb is Tricia Paoluccio who captures Parton’s character with terrifying accuracy. Paoluccio hits Parton’s voice and mannerisms, right down to her iconic giggle, with aplomb. Furthermore, this is a powerful vocal delivery of Parton’s hits, though it is so identical that at times it does feel like a polished tribute act rather than a musical performance.

It is here where the production risks losing its identity. The musical tries to strike a balance between jukebox musical and glorified tribute act and just about finds the middle point. It positions Parton’s hits at the right moment enabling the very shallow plot to thread together and captures well the heart and soul of the country icon’s back catalogue.

That said, the show does just feel a bit of an excuse to take us to Dollywood, which will certainly please the singer’s fans.

Runs until 6 July 2024, then continues tour.

The Reviews Hub Score

A Sparkling Spectacle

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The Reviews Hub - South East

The South East team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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