The Off Key – White Bear Theatre

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Writer and Director: Scott Mackie

Have you ever wondered, or noticed, how many songs are about someone called “baby”, or are about how bad the end of a relationship feels?

These songs are everywhere, especially in the work of guitar-powered singer-songwriters the world over. Bravo then, to Scott Mackie for making this subject matter feel engaging and personal through this play-cum-gig. It showcases the stories and messiness that lies behind the songs’ construction as well as illustrating neatly the difficulties of matching feelings of love to your eventual actions in a relationship.

Sam (Mackie) and Olivia (Molly Glynn-Whitehead) are friends, but naturally, he loves her and has done so since they met. Unable to say it to her face, he writes it in a song and once it’s in a song, it has to be played. Meaning to share this song with the world after she leaves the gig they’re both performing at, his plans hit a speedbump when she stays around.He ploughs on anyway with the song I Like You, Break Up with Your Boyfriend for Me and kicks off a tense, intense and agitated love affair which drives the 90-minute show.

The couple’s actions are nothing too noteworthy. They hurt each other, and are hurt in return after loving fiercely though a little confusedly so. They’re the actions of thousands of couples everyday. Mackie’s songs elevate this and through his sometimes sweet, sometimes brash style of singing and guitar playing, as well as Glynn-Whitehead’s crystalline and nuanced vocals, we get to know something of the life and energy behind the everyday.

While the songs are great, there are some pieces of the story that let it down; the timeline of the relationship or the real world is not clear, and the characters could benefit from a little fleshing out beyond just being two singers who get together and have a relationship. The most frustrating aspect comes with the love itself. Mackie touches on questions about the notion of love and being in it. These are fascinating insights, posing deep queries, but are left gasping for air. As a prime example, is Olivia’s post break-up song where she claims to move on and wonders about his continuing attitude to her; Because they had sex does he think he owns her now? This, and other moments like his (and her) anger, their cheating, their public airing of private grief and more all hint at a well of material ready to be exploited, whereas we’re just given a bucketful in this show.

However, even without this quest to question love itself, this is a rich and fulfilling show. The music’s inventive, the on-stage chemistry between Glynn-Whitehead and Mackie is a joy to experience and the emotional frankness of the material is highly intriguing. After this run, Mackie’s hoping to take the show to other venues – it fully deserves to be seen by more than the socially distanced, but very appreciative audience at the White Bear.

Runs until 10 October 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Jolting emotional honesty

User Rating: 3.55 ( 1 votes)

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One Comment

  1. I really hope that ‘The Off Key’ continues to reach more audiences. We saw the Friday performance at the White Bear and loved the painful, humorous and honest love story told by two incredibly talented actors. Extremely well crafted and often witty songs kept us all engaged and enthralled. Congratulations to Scott Mackie on his writing, directing and acting and to Molly Glynn-Whitehead for such an honest and beautiful debut perfomance. I’m a very proud dad!

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