The Mad Ones – Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Book, Music and Lyrics: Kait Kerrigan and Bree Lowdermilk

Director: Emily Susanne Lloyd

Viral internet sensation The Mad Ones has finally had its live premiere in the UK after having its first performance off-Broadway in 2017. But can it live up to the hype?

Sam and Kelly were inseparable friends in high school. Kelly was the Yin to Sam’s Yang, everything that Sam wasn’t: impetuous, headstrong, daring. Together, they would drive in Kelly’s car, Kelly in the driving seat, her mantra of “maps are for the braindead” ringing in Sam’s ears.

And then, just like that, Kelly is gone, a victim of a random accident and Sam has to steer her own course into a future that is suddenly more uncertain.

The show opens with Sam on the horns of a dilemma: she’s sitting in Kelly’s car, keys in hand, paralysed by indecision. In her daydream, Kelly comes to her and together they relive the last year or so as Sam has tried to steer a course that simultaneously satisfies her mother, Bev, Sam’s boyfriend, Adam and herself. Of course, no such course exists: what will Sam, now bereft and with neither map nor rudder, decide?

The Mad Ones is an intense experience, not least because, in the Old Joint Stock’s intimate theatre, we’re thrust right into Sam’s world. The four cast members maintain the energy throughout as feelings – not just Sam’s but those of Kelly, Bev and Adam – are presented and worked through. And there is no doubt that this young cast can sing, massaging the audience’s emotions with songs ranging from introspective to plaintive to angry.

Central to the whole is the relationship between Sam (Dora Gee) and Kelly (Safia Bartley). There’s real chemistry between Gee and Bartley as the bond develops between Sam and Kelly, with the difficult patches also well depicted. Thea Jo Wolfe successfully shows us Bev’s conflict between wanting the best for her daughter while wanting her safe. Wolfe and Gee show us just how her mother’s outlook and obsession with statistics have shaped Sam’s life. Ryan Bartholomew brings us Adam, Sam’s sweet sweetheart. He seems to have his future completely mapped out, but Bartholomew also brings us Adam’s angst as he tries to support Sam.

Director Emily Susanne Lloyd has trodden the line between emotion and melodrama well, ensuring that the whole remains believable. Tom McVeigh’s set is simple and serves to keep uppermost in our mind the central conceit of Kelly’s road trips as a microcosm of Sam’s new life. This is supplemented by Joanne Marshall’s intelligent use of lighting with pools of light in the darkness that serve to direct our attention.

There are flaws, however. While the score does demonstrate light and shade, it feels as if there could be a touch more variety. And while 90 minutes is certainly not a long running time, the second half feels overlong: one feels as if each character has already laid out their stall and that there is some water-treading as we await the dénouement in which Sam finds her voice.

Nevertheless, this is an entertaining evening out in the company of talented performers to witness Sam’s difficult coming-of-age and worth a punt.

Runs until 20 April 2024

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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One Comment

  1. Really enjoyed the show and venue. It was very immersive with the cast so close and singing to you whilst looking you in the eye! It reminded us to live in the moment. Seize opportunities. Tear up the map and take opportunities as its by trying new things that or lives change and mould. Our desire to stay in the past and not move into the now. They were incredible singers, actors and storytellers. Catch it whilst you can!

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