The Stars That Remain – Old Joint Stock Theatre, Birmingham

Book,Music andLyrics: Adrian Kimberlin

Director: Alan Magor

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

It’s Mothers Day, a busy day at the Hartson’s florist. In addition, it’s almost the owners’ thirtieth wedding anniversary and Ian and Viv are still as much in love as they were when they first met. Sadly, their daughters have been less lucky in love. The elder, Poppy, can’t understand why Ben – whom she met last Mothers Day and with whom she had an intense six-month relationship – seemed to just disappear. There was always something about him that she couldn’t penetrate, it’s true: she never visited his home nor met his family. In flashbacks, we discover Ben’s secret – an alcoholic wife, Angie, who somehow succeeds to convince him to change his mind about leaving. Poppy’s sister, Rosa, is in a relationship with the boorish Nathan, a dodgy police officer.

The girls are preparing to take over the shop as their parents retire. For a reason not entirely clear, Rosa is in financial difficulties and supplementing income by pole dancing at a local club, run by the sleazy Charlie Moses and dopey sidekick, Jonah. Unknown to Rosa, Nathan is in Moses’ pocket, his cocaine habit, as well as willing girls, being supplied by the club owner. It’s inevitable that their paths will cross, leading Rosa to end the relationship and re-evaluate her life choices.

In addition, we meet a bag lady who observes and comments on goings-on – a sort of scruffy Greek Chorus – and the owners of neighbouring shops, Bernard and Vernon.

So we are set up for a story about the power of love to overcome obstacles when something quite unexpected happens that causes everyone to re-evaluate their lives and brings the first half to a close. In the second half, those re-evaluations lead to generally satisfying outcomes for most of the characters as the plot twists and darkens.

The Stars That Remain has been in gestation for five years, a labour of love for writer Adrian Kimberlin, a local singer and composer. It’s lately been supported by OJS Open Doors, a project that helps local creatives to develop work, meeting them at whatever stage they have reached and enabling them to move on. This was the show’s first full outing.

What is immediately apparent is the scope of Kimberlin’s ambition in producing this epic piece – even after some editing in the week prior to opening, it still runs a little over three hours including interval; realistically, if it is to have a future beyond this week, it will need further pruning. Some songs could reasonably be shortened while there remains scope to remove others. The breadth of the storyline also means that while the central characters of the Hartsons are well-rounded, the more peripheral characters are more two-dimensional, drawn with rather bold strokes: for example, we see why Ben struggles with wife Angie’s alcoholism but don’t get to understand her backstory, with the result that she is unsympathetic. Similarly, Nathan seems to have no redeeming features whatsoever so Rosa’s relationship with him is difficult to understand – although her ending of it makes perfect sense. There are also odd storylines that seem to go nowhere and maybe originally were developed further but in their truncated form are just confusing – a letter given to Ben by Angie, a couple of mentions of a previous boyfriend of Poppy’s

However, there are moments of genuine emotion as the story progresses, with some poignant songs from singers in fine voice. Haunt Me, that opens the second half is, indeed, haunting.

The central couple, Viv and Ian, are played with warmth by Sarah Riches and Hugh Blackwood respectively; one can easily believe their devotion to one another that has lived on for over thirty years. Similarly, Poppy and Rosa (Lucy Follows and Ashleigh Aston) are believable as the chalk-and-cheese sisters. Follows brings a matter-of-factness to Poppy, though the vulnerability we infer based on hints about previous relationships isn’t quite as clear. She does, however, light up in the presence of new love Ben, played by Tim Benjamin in especially fine voice as he demonstrates just how conflicted he is. Aston is similarly in excellent voice throughout as the slightly more flaky Rosa struggling to find her way forward in the aftermath of Nathan (Pete Beck). Beck certainly demonstrates Nathan’s boorishness and intimidating presence while Paul Lumsden’s Moses is suitably devious and unpleasantly creepy; Neil Jacks’ demonstrates a rich deep voice as henchman Jonah but none get the opportunity to show us much depth.

The Stars That Remain, nevertheless, has much to commend it. The music is melodic, often hitting emotions hard even if there aren’t any obvious showstoppers present; there are some witty lyrics, too, for example, in Never Be Rosa Moses are rhymes of which master wordsmith Ronnie Barker would have been proud. The plot and subplots are wide-ranging and relevant. But to be truly successful, some of the editorial decisions need to be revisited in order to tell the story more tightly and efficiently. It will be interesting to see if it can develop further and to revisit if so.

Runs Until 10 November 2018 | Image: Ed Loboda

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Promising but overlong

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The Reviews Hub - Central

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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