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I Could Use a Drink – Gartland Productions/ Stream Theatre

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Music and Lyrics: Drew Gasparini

Director: Alex Conder

Despite its title, Drew Gasparini’s song cycle I Could Use a Drink is not Another Round-style exploration of alcoholic substances and instead has a softly earnest and romantic focus on the perils of love, relationships and teenage angst. Released as a concept album in 2013 and since developed into a musical theatre concert, it makes its UK debut via Stream Theatre directed by Alex Conder.

This 17-song production is given a relaxed staging with the singers and three-piece band led by Flynn Sturgeon – with Alex Maxted on drums and Emily Roberts on guitar – situated in a book-lined room with leather sofas that doesn’t much reflect the content of the songs but makes for a pleasant backdrop that keeps the focus on the seven impressive performers who take the opportunity to showcase their vocal range and storytelling skills.

Each song largely exists on its own, collectively forming a picture of love at different stages and under threat. There are tales of unrequited love, of distant school crushes and teenage pregnancy, addiction to a partner, frustration at their need for distance, angry break-ups, emotional breakdowns and even homicide. The variation between the song styles is limited but Gasparini uses the boundary between pop and musical theatre to create determination in each of his characters.

Some of the best songs subvert expectations including Caroline Kay’s lovelorn murderess who lures her second victim to his death to impress an unseen man. The oom-pah-pah beat creates lots of changes of tone and pace allowing Kay to be coy, ferocious and charismatically threatening in equal measure. Billy Nevers also impresses in the funk-inspired Good Stuff which showcases his strong growling vocal. Other notable inclusions include I’m a Little Bit sung by Luke Bayer as Simon writing a letter to his mum and the school-based Valley High performed by Bayer, Ahmad Hamad and Tom Francis.

Two songs are the mirror image of one another; in Act One, Hamad sings the slightly mysterious but expressive No Turning Back, opening a letter from his girlfriend with a secret message that the listener discovers later in the number. It is matched in Act Two by Olivia Lallo’s performance as a scared but defiant teenager in Two Little Lines, telling the other half of this story. A prop visually links these two sections, but it is a shame that I Could Use a Drink doesn’t take the opportunity to create stronger connections between other songs in the same way.

The quality of the performances is high throughout, yet many of the more downbeat songs are too similar and their pounding earnestness makes them indistinct. The borderline messaging of Fell in Love with Crazy, the sugary sweetness of Dear Lucy, the self-pitying Disaster and the devoted Right Here and I Loved You Too Much are fairly indistinguishable while the finale Overboard is underwhelming.

Running at 75-minutes including a 5-minute digital interval, the differing combination of solos, duos and even a trio performance creates a bit of variety while the seven talented singers give every song their all. Yet, while similar song cycles given a digital airing such as Songs for a New World and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change hold together, I Could Use a Drink never really grows into a coherent collection.

Runs here until 16 May 2021

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. 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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