The Distance You Have Come – Cockpit Theatre, London

Book, Music and Lyrics: Scott Alan

Director: Scott Alan

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Scott Alan’s songwriting has a definite cachet among musical theatre cabaret performers. His pensive, yearning ballads provide a great opportunity for a singer to emote and demonstrate emotional depth as part of their set.

A whole evening of such numbers, though, can risk monotony. There’s an earnestness to his writing in general, such an emphasis on thwarted love and depression, that such a high concentration of Alan numbers can feel as if you’re being lectured to by someone who has a really high opinion of how low they’re feeling.

The Distance You Have Come, a new song cycle comprising staged versions of 25 Alan songs, doesn’t always fall into that trap – but when it does, it really leans into it. Presented as a series of vignettes into the lives of six people whose lives end up intertwining, the first half is dominated by the presence of Dean John-Wilson as an alcoholic depressive who is struggling to cope with his ex’s impending marriage. This is the embodiment of Alan at his most raw, and potentially at his most cloying, saved only by John-Wilson’s delicate vocal timbre, singing for once in his native Middlesborough accent.

Such a dominant force in Act I overwhelms some of the show’s lighter and more romantic moments. Andy Coxon and Adrian Hansel are sweet together as the gay couple who move rapidly from the first date to marriage and discussing having a family, with their duet of Nothing More. Less successful is a version of Kiss the Air sung by Alexia Khadime. A number about someone walking away from a failed relationship in order to give their lover a chance at happiness, Alan (who, in addition to creating the song, has written the near non-existent book and also directs) has Khadime read this as the spurned partner reading a letter, diluting the song’s honesty.

Some of the lighter moments of Act I – Emma Hatton’s spirited rendition of I’m a Star (the sort of song sung from the point of view of a struggling performer that is adored by, well, struggling performers) and Jodie Jacobs’ comedic performance in His Name – feel like they have been shoehorned in to prevent the longueurs of the rest of Act I.

Act II has a greater sense of narrative cohesion to it – not that a song cycle really needs one, but the sense of flow from song to song is much improved. But it also contains some of Alan’s weaker works. Kicking off with a recovering John-Wilson singing Grateful (an inferior song to the John Bucchino number of the same name), there are nevertheless some familiar numbers to Alan fans in there, notably It’s Good To See You Again and a delicate performance of Home by Coxon and Hansel as they welcome their newborn baby.

But the absolute highlight is Jacobs who, after reconciling her split with Khadime’s character, strikes up with John-Wilson in a park for a duet of Just a Walk. Her constant undercutting of the po-faced seriousness of Alan’s lyrics with Cockney sarcastic wit brings exactly the sort of balance The Distance You Have Come is missing throughout. It is also nice to see a bisexual character realised on stage, too – although the character’s description of herself as a “recovering lesbian” risks tipping the portrayal into bi erasure.

Musical director Scott Morgan’s arrangements often have to transition quickly from song to song, often robbing the first of its emotional conclusion in the haste to start on the second. The finale number, the titular The Distance You Have Come, also suffers – despite the rising crescendo of its self-affirmation making it the perfect finale number, the closing notes fade away into nothingness, reducing its power.

In an auditorium where poor microphone levels often struggle to compensate for the acoustic demands of an in-the-round staging, the resultant feeling that one is left with is of a show that is incomplete. The Distance You Have Come still has a way to go.

Continues until October 28 2018 | Image: Darren Bell

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