Book: Adam Wollerton
Music: PJ Nielsen and Jake Few
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The university years have been strangely overlooked by musicals and while the last years of secondary school seem to be the focus of many well-known shows, what happens next is in many ways more formative. Grease, High School Musical and even the forthcoming Mean Girls musical all look at that period before adulthood, so PJ Nielsen, Jake Few and Adam Wollerton’s new show LoveStuck about love, life and sexuality at university fills a gap in the market.
Charlie arrives at London Thames University having recently come out to his mother, and instantly finds himself attracted to Ben who is in a relationship with bully James. As the two circle around each other, Charlie finds comfort in his burgeoning friendships with feisty photographer Lily and video-game-loving geek Jake as they all try to figure out who they’re going to be.
In tone, LoveStuck appears to take its inspiration from American teenage sitcoms in wearing its heart on its sleeve and being quite earnest about its central messages of tolerance and acceptance. There is nothing wrong with that and it has a certain appeal for those who like their entertainment to be sweet and sentimental.
However, that does rather dilute its more serious aspects, so its attempts to deal with the effects of drug-taking and sexual assault become convenient plot devices rather than insightful commentary.
The plot is both plentiful and in short supply in this 2½-hour show. Because the focus is on the central love story between Charlie and Ben, which takes up most of the somewhat repetitious 90-minute first act, the secondary storylines feel weak and underdeveloped.
Wollerton’s book has created a set of potentially interesting characters and avenues for expansion, and rather than the multiple songs about unrequited love, some of this time would be better spent delving deeper into the attitudes, experiences and drivers of the more nuanced secondary characters, particularly Lily and Jake.
Kathryn Kitchener’s Lily is one of the most rounded roles, offering a cheeky bravado that allows her to say anything she likes but still retain warm friendships. In a subplot about an inappropriate relationship with a lecturer, Kitchener shows the vulnerability beneath the surface which could be explored more deeply.
Similarly, Luke de Belder as Jake has a lot of great comic material early in the show, getting drunk for the first time and talking enthusiastically about his online world. de Belder makes Jake a clear audience favourite from the start, so this could be an opportunity to ‘promote’ the characters of Lily and Jake to co-leads rather than subplots to explore the experiences of being ‘lovestuck’ from three different perspectives.
Charlie’s story, while it dominates the show, seems to have less potential and while Matthew Lee brings out plenty of young adult angst in Charlie’s growing feelings for Ben, it doesn’t give Lee much opportunity to develop. He does have a nice bouncy anthem to celebrate his new-found confidence in ‘Twice the Man I Was’ but there isn’t quite enough story here to sustain the show.
LoveStuck has a sincerity that is quite endearing and plenty of positive messages about accepting your sexuality and personality. The projected graphic design onto the sail-like curtain is a clever and meaningful alternative to cumbersome scenery, and there is a clear sense of commitment to the show. But it is a little flabby, with too many characters and a mish-mash of soapy plots that aren’t given the time to breathe, which a tighter focus on the three principals would remedy.
Runs until 30 July 2017 | Image: Dylan Kulmayer