Writer: Rob Drummond
Director: Richard Twyman
Richard Drummond’s Open Mic night at Soho Theatre may be the kindest show we have seen in lockdown combining a selection of incredibly supportive audience performances with a group therapy session reflecting on the effects of lockdown with the various contributors. With opportunities to join via Zoom or stream through the theatre’s website, Drummond’s new initiative wants to create community in a very safe space.
There are seven performances from some very talented individuals all in their own homes. Most offer a song including Naomi from Croydon whose rendition of Sam Smith’s Lay Me Down bravely and rather beautifully opens the show. Jessica from Walthamstow plays guitar while singing a Jack White song, Val who has been shielding has an acapella folk piece while teacher Ian offers his own composition, an American-indie inspired tune called Squeeze.
There is also an enjoyable fast-paced comedy set from Ted whose obsession with American Presidents becomes a statistical presentation that uses graphs and charts to analyse their names as Scrabble scores, their sexiness and their historical ranking. Christy, a regular on the open mic scene also shares some poetry from her house share in East London.
This is a place of ‘love, understanding and fun’ although the fun does take rather a downturn when the tone changes notably in the show’s first 45-minutes, moving from a celebration of the talented participants and the encouraging purpose of Open Mic to something much sadder, focusing on experiences of depression, loneliness and increased drinking during the past year. Drummond’s Compere seems particularly affected as he shares his experiences with the audience and there is an increased emotional weight that derails the positive approach established early on with several reminders to keep it light.
But Drummond, in his increasingly beleaguered role as master of ceremonies, is interested in his guests and spends quite a bit of time after each performance chatting to them. There is a real kindness in his concern that each person he talks to is not alone, how they have coped with the restrictions of the year, the things they have missed and what life has been like in different parts of the UK. This feels like a very personal outlet for the Compere, reaching out to his Zoom audience who are equally open in response.
Open Mic is nicely staged at the Soho Theatre by Jean Chan with cabaret tables containing dummies, a small stage and three video walls where Drummond can see and interact with his video platform guests as well as talking down the camera to streaming viewers. Each performer is projected onto the stage area to give the impression of a live presence. And it’s lovely to see the impact and reactions of the wall of faces as the show unfolds.
As Open Mic progresses and Drummond engages with his final performer, a staginess creeps in that starts to reorientate your view of this production as the emotional subtext reaches a dramatic conclusion, although exactly how much of the show you need to re-evaluate remains teasingly ambiguous to the end. Overshooting its 75-minute running time, Open Mic may not be what it seems, but its realist approach will certainly leave you with plenty to think about.
Runs here until 3 April 2021