Music and Lyrics: Craig Adams
Book: Ian Watson
Director: Dean Johnson
54 seconds in the lift at Covent Garden tube station may not seem very long to contemplate all of the troubles of your life but that’s exactly where busker Gabriel chooses to reflect, surrounded by strangers who become caught up in his imaginings. This revival of Craig Adams and Ian Watson’s 2013 musical Lift at Southwark Playhouse hasn’t solved the show’s muddled narrative and over-conceptualised framework, but Director Dean Johnson brings some flare to this contemporary staging.
Frustrated by the same morning routine, a group of strangers in a lift start to recreate their various relationship woes. From a male ballet dancer afraid to come out to his mother, a lesbian teacher experiencing her first BDSM session and some office workers ignoring a past encounter to Gabriel pining the loss of Sarah, this group of people suddenly find they have plenty in common.
Lift has a relatively straightforward concept but in practice its abstract and convoluted shape is difficult to follow. Over the course of an unbroken 90-minutes, lots of different people sing about lost love, hidden feelings and rejection without fully drawing out or connecting to the emotion of any one individual. By taking a broad look at different kinds of romantic and sexual encounters, skipping from the falsity of online dating avatars to fantasy dates it never really joins the dots and instead of empathising with them, you just want them all to pull themselves together and get on with it.
But points where these narratives intersect do start to emerge – mention of Paris, a girl named Sarah, the ease with strangers and a repeated instruction to say what you feel – so, as Adams and Watson’s musical progresses, it does push the audience to think whether we are seeing the concerns of each person in the lift play out during their journey to the surface or instead perhaps this is all in Gabriel’s head and he adopts the faces of his fellow passengers to people his random thoughts and memories.
Johnson’s production is, however, pretty dynamic, taking place on an urban steel rig designed by Andrew Exeter that moves the characters to their various locations while the inbuilt multicoloured neon lights add emphasis to the songs, supporting the semi-fantastical interpretation. Johnson manages the changes in style well which move rapidly from Americanised computer graphics come to life to deeply sentimental tales of love and loss to which Johnson brings some visual and tonal harmony.
There is far less distinction in Adams’ songs and the cast have a tendency to belt out them all, which given there is only time for one major solo per character, is understandable, but it offers little musical variety or subtly across the production. Still, their voices are all equally impressive with Luke Friend as busker Gabriel, Hiba Elchikhe as the Secretary and Tamara Morgan as the BDSM practitioner particularly marking out some greater interior life for their characters.
As a concept Lift should be more engaging than it is but in staging this well-paced revival for Southwark Playhouse, Johnson, Exeter and choreographer Annie Southall make up for some of its shortcomings with a strong visual approach.
Runs until 18 June 2022