Out There – Union Theatre, London

Writers: Elliot Davis and James Bourne
Director: Michael Burgen
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

It’s every little boy’s dream to become an astronaut and the potential for space exploration has filtered through popular culture. For America in particular, landing on the moon in 1969 and subsequent space missions have taken on almost mythological status, spawning endless films, TV shows, and now a musical. Unfortunately, Elliot Davis and James Bourne’s tale of a missing spaceman is as flimsy as its cardboard set.

tell-us-block_editedOut There opens with the hopeful Newman Carter saying one last goodbye to his wife aand family before tragedy strikes and he disappears. Fast forward 40 years and Newman’s troublesome grandson, Logan, decides to run away from the city to escape the police and his dad. Logan ends up in Hope, Texas, to deliver a note to the curmudgeonly old man he has no idea is his grandfather, but Newman, now called Ned, has a big secret in his barn. Meanwhile, the townsfolk, led by the evil Sheriff, are seeking regeneration and want to sell Ned’s land to a redevelopment company.

Davis and Bourne’s show has a few good songs, a nice idea and some excellent performers; the trouble with it is they were so busy with the subplots that they forgot to write the main story. Too much of the action concerns the one-note Sheriff character plotting and scheming to force Ned off his land so the town can sell it, and she makes a tidy profit. Lots of the songs focus on the town meetings, the plan to sneak into Ned’s barn and see what he’s doing and a town dance that take the story further away from its purpose.

Sadly all of this has been done before and every possible cliché is wrung out of the Texas set-up – a duplicitous policeman, stupid henchmen, easily swayed townspeople and a big bad corporation coming to destroy their community. And while all the performers have excellent voices, the Sheriff Pack in particular lacks menace, so even Melissa Veszi’s main song I’m the Law falls flat. Likewise, a love story between local mechanic Jamie (Imelda Warren-Green) and the young hero Logan (Luke Street) feels thin with the couple declaring undying love pretty quickly, but then she is the only young women he meets in the entire show.

What this should have been about is the grandfather-father-son relationship within the Carter family and the various difficulties each generation experiences with the others. Ned abandoned David as a toddler but other than one song in Act Two, this experience is hardly touched uponbut is especially important in explaining David’s own fractious contact with Logan. Nor do we get any sense of the difficulty of growing up in the shadow of a famous man, and the fascination with space that captivates each of them.

The three performers, Dave Willetts as Ned, Street as Logan and Neil Moors as David work fantastically well together, bringing considerably more emotion and depth to their roles than the work offers them – their performances almost demand more stage time. They also get all the best songs, with Who the Hell Do You Think You Are, Too Late for Change, What Matters Most and One Step Away giving hints at what this musical could have been if this central story had been properly developed.

Sadly, Out There allows fluff and some wince-inducing writing, such as ‘contaminate our water, I’m telling you as your daughter’, to obscure the plot and, although director Michael Burgen uses the space well, Lisa Mathieson’s choreography is almost non-existent.

There is a very sweet and tender multi-generational tale here and some excellent musical performers; it’s just a shame that Out There’s misguided plot focus explodes on take-off.

Runs until: 8 October 2016 | Image:NASA

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