Music/Book/Lyrics: Paul Scott Goodman
Book: Miriam Gordon
Director: Andrew Keates
Reviewer: Lucy Thackray
Rooms is a rocky two-hander musical about a whirlwind romance between Glaswegians Monica (a fiery, fame-hungry singer) and Ian (a talented, reclusive guitarist) during the rise of punk and new wave in the Seventies. The classic ‘opposites attract’ storyline is strengthened by Ian’s slight agoraphobia and Monica’s itchy feet – he can’t bear to leave his room, while she can’t bear to stay too long in the same one (hence Rooms). Not wildly new territory for a musical first presented off-Broadway in 2005.
Rooms does seem a little out of place in the Finborough’s usually irreproachable artistic programme – the creative team largely revives forgotten or overlooked musicals, and housing this work (which is technically new but certainly doesn’t break any new ground) feels out of character. For the show feels, at times, like a mash-up of previous musicals. The troubled bohemians’ chance meeting is incredibly RENT-esque, the story of a couple starting at the end and flashing back to the beginning has shades of The Last Five Years and the love story, which begins with a reluctant musical collaboration, is very Once. It also seems odd timing for the Finborough to bring such a similar Celtic musical romance to Europe just when the latter is the toast of the West End (and offering a considerably subtler and musically richer romance at that). On top of this, Goodman’s score is very reminiscent of Jonathan Larson’s work – indeed, he was the first solo recipient of the Jonathan Larson Foundation Award. So the odds are against it, but, despite these echoes of earlier and better shows, it does rather win you over.
For starters, Rooms is considerably lighter of heart than the likes of Once and RENT, with perky bits of score like Steps and NYC Forever providing some highlights. Secondly, Cassidy Janson isirresistiblycharming as feisty and ambitious Monica, whipping the show along with her high-octane vocals and the energy of her performance, cut through suddenly by moments of vulnerability. Alexis Gerred as her love interest Ian is a little lower-key, though contributing a lovely rock voice and a pleasantly simpleinterpretationof ‘troubled soul’. Luckily this works fine, as Monica is the driving force in the story as well.
What really improves the material, however, is the pace of the action and the superb band, who rock out as much as you can in such a small fringe space, while the sound balance remains perfect. You cannot help but be entertained, despite occasionally dodgy Glaswegian accents and heavy-handed lyrical rhymes. The score isn’t memorable but the book and the odd lyric will raise a smile. The protean space of the Finborough is as spacious as it has ever looked, an industrial, minimalist collection of rough wooden boards and metal door frames neatly side-stepping any need for naff props or Seventiesparaphernalia. This is where the subtlety ended, however, as the book and lyrics do bludgeon you rather with the sticking points of Ian’s alcoholism and Monica’s delusions of grandeur. We get it, I thought on more than one occasion. And while the show is a pleasantly whirlwind hour and a half with no interval, the speed of the story means that you aren’t particularly invested in the romance by the time things start to break down. That being said, there are some real moments of humour (largely brought to life by Janson’s spirited delivery) and a warmth and energy that keep the audience’s attention. It may not set London’s theatre scene alight, but Rooms will certainly warm your cockles and put a smile on your face.
Runs until 18th May.