Writer: David Lindsay-Abaire
Music: Tom Kitt
Lyrics: Amanda Green
Director: Tom Jackson Greaves
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
A brand new British-based musical is the brave choice for the second production at the brand new Turbine Theatre, located in the shadow of the disused Battersea Power Station. But can the show generate sufficient spark to reignite flames in the area and, perhaps, beyond?
Taken from Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel of the same title, High Fidelity’s story of Rob, an overgrown boy dragging himself kicking and screaming into manhood, has a familiar feel. The show gets off to a cracking start with the company belting out The Last Real Record Store (on Earth); Rob owns the store which targets types (male) who value a rare Sex Pistols vinyl disc over meaningful relationships with types (female) who prefer Celine Dion.
Oliver Ormson’s Rob is more boy than man, possessing enough endearing cheekiness to obscure the character’s mild misogyny. Nonetheless, it is not only the plentiful 1990s cultural references that give David Lindsay-Adaire’s adaptation of the novel a dated feel. A bigger problem for him is the novel’s shortage of plot, which makes the show start to feel stretched when it gets into its second act.
Rob’s geeky sidekicks at the shop in Holloway, North London are the timid Scouser Dick (Carl Au) and Barry (Robbie Durham), who aims to form a band even though he plays no instruments. They all speak in lists of five or ten, but it seems that fidelity comes fairly low on the list of Rob’s qualities with the appearance of five former girlfriends who come back to haunt him at regular intervals throughout the show.
Hornby’s boys are an amusing bunch. He shows less flair in developing his girls, although Shanay Holmes does well to flesh out Laura, the girlfriend who walks out on Rob for the slimy Ian (Robert Tripolino) and Bobbie Little is a formidable presence as Liz, confidante to both of the parted lovers. An 11-strong company fills the small stage to the point of overflowing into the audience, the clutter of David Shields’ set design for the record store, limiting their space still further.
The challenge for composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Amanda Green is to come up with original songs that bear comparison with the iconic tracks which are so adored by the show’s main characters. The results are more hit than miss, but they seem to have listened to Rob’s advice on compiling the perfect mix tape by introducing varieties of style among their predominantly rock numbers. She Goes is a heartfelt soul ballad with which Little stops the show and Eleanor Kane, as a club singer, taps into country music for Ready to Settle. Other highlights include Rob’s dream duets with Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, both played by Joshua Deever.
Tom Jackson Greaves’ high energy production, enlivened by his clever choreography, goes a long way to smoothing out some of the show’s rough edges and glossing over the slightness and predictability of the storyline. Perhaps this is best looked at as a work in progress and, if so, the show has enough potential to go further after this run.
Runs until 7 December 2019 | Image: Mark Senior