Book, Music &Lyrics: Tim Gilvin
Director: Matt Ryan
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
The winner of 2014’s S&S Award, given annually to the best new unproduced musical of the year, Tim Gilvin’s one-act Stay Awake, Jakerevolves around the eponymous Jake, a struggling comic book writer who is driving through the night from his home in South London to visit his girlfriend Sofia in Carlisle. Exactly why the trip is so importantand so urgent, is slowly revealed as Jake contemplates the events that have led him to his present course of action.
A continuous sixty minutes of singing from a solo performer requires an actor who is engaging and versatile. Jamie Muscato, on a brief leave from his lead role in Bend It Like Beckham, demonstrates that he is more than up for the task, making Jake a likeable loser who can’t quite believe he snagged the girlfriend he did. Gilvin’s work moves between light, self-deprecating humour and a storyline which begins to explore much more personal and intimate issues, and Muscato ably demonstrates the range that brings out the best in each number.
With such a solo piece, not much in the way of staging is required, and the show’s place as part of the larger Vault Festival – with the same small venue hosting other shows immediately before and after – place further pressures on the design. The simplicity of Lee Newby’s design – essentially four chairs and a backpack, out of which sundry other mementos emerge – works especially well under some straightforward but effective lighting from Howard Hudson. Director Matt Ryan brings a kineticism to proceedings, ensuring the act of watching someone drive for hours is far from a static experience.
One difficulty with a relationship drama that is played out by only one-half of the couple at its heart is that only one voice is heard, their opposite number’s thoughts and opinions heard only through the filter of the person in front of us. Thus, there is a Sofia-shaped hole in the retelling of a failing relationship. And while Gilvin and Muscato do their best to fill it in with a rounded characterisation of an imperfect protagonist, there remains a nagging doubt that some of the issues Gilvin’s book touches on would be better served by conversation rather than monologue. But as a vehicle for a writer and actor who are both on their way up, Stay Awake, Jake is roadworthy indeed.
Runs until 7 February 2016 | Image:Scott Rylander