Music / Lyrics: Theo Jamieson
Book: Simon Pitts and Theo Jamieson
An international love story, U.Me: The Musical explores the lives of two people, who find themselves caught in the upheaval of a global pandemic.
Rose Darrow (played by Anoushka Lucas), has recently moved to London from Brighton, eager for adventure and opportunity. Working for a sports charity, Rose finds her world shrinking as the pandemic takes hold. Her job moves online – as Rose herself sings, “my life is a loading signal”.
Ryo Miike (Martin Sarreal) has moved to Kyoto from San Francisco. Ryo’s high-achieving parents want him to become a doctor. Obsessed with visual culture, Ryo wants to work in video production. Rose and Ryo meet online – they chat. It becomes clear there is a deeper connection, waiting to be found.
As a radio musical, the identity of U.Me is all in its sound. Anchored with a gentle narration from Stephen Fry, the songs (written by Theo Jamieson) not only help us to empathise with the characters, but to explore – safely and at a distance – the pandemic world of 2020.
Jamieson, using his experience of working as the music director for Everybody’s Talking about Jamie, deploys a range of styles across the musical to give body to this imagined world. We have a funky, brash opening with Everything Stops where Rose contemplates a life, interrupted. Moving into familiar musical territory, Rose and Ryo have their first online date. The exuberance of Chair Dance inverts the usual tropes, as the couple clear furniture to make a virtual dancefloor.. It goes well, and during the romantic, tentative I Feel Different, Rose and Ryo contemplate how their lives may have changed.
Jamieson takes advantage of having radio as his medium: a sense of intimacy is created through voice, as the songs shift between the spoken word and a hopeful, heady lyricism. U.Me isn’t afraid to dial into the euphoric feel of an old-school musical – in amongst the weirdness, the trauma of the pandemic experience, there are bright, brief glimpses of normality. Rose agrees to be maid of honour at her friend Alyssa’s online wedding. Despite the worries about a (literal and metaphoric) disconnect, Rose finds herself moved by the experience.
This is a self-proclaimed “musical romance”, and while the plot offers few surprises, at the centre of U.Me there is a sweetness that is impossible to resist. But the musical is clever enough not to lean too heavily on the romance: it is tempered by the pandemic’s presence, always in the background, humming like a bassline. This juxtaposition doesn’t feel at odds: given a little time and perspective, our personal and collective experiences of living through Covid are already beginning to take shape.
The art coming from this is starting to articulate a sense of stasis and movement; a desire to move forward despite the obstacles. U.Me:The Musical neatly fits in that pocket. There is an optimism threaded through even the darkest moments: the musical gives voice to not only what we have lost, but what we might gain.
Available on BBC Sounds