Baggage

Kelly Kingham and Toby Herschmann
Pentameters Theatre, Hampstead
(2009)

Publicity graphic

When one goes to see a new piece of writing you expect there to be a few flaws but you also hope to see some potential: sadly, the new musical Baggage has none.

One hopes a musical will be entertaining and yet you can't help but question a musical about someone contemplating suicide. However, it could work: who would have thought Parade - a musical about someone wrongly accused of murder - could have been such a success? However, a musical about suicide which is a comedy; now that's when you know you're in trouble. I say comedy: that's probably being kind. While its intentions are certainly to be that, the execution of it is debateable.

We're not sure why Danny (Steve Watts) has found himself out of the ledge of a building and, to be honest, you don't really care, but Baggage takes you through a series of flashbacks as we see the events which led to this moment. Baggage is the most peculiar mismatch of styles. It plays with naturalism, surrealism, characters talking in rhyme and of course, why not throw in some singing monkeys? I'm actually serious: there are singing monkeys. It's no mean feat to write a musical, let alone stage it, but the trick with a new musical is to keep it simple and not throw every idea you've ever had into one show, which is exactly what Kelly Kingham and Toby Herschmann do. The narrative is weak, which by itself wouldn't be too much of a problem - after all, musicals aren't renowned for their complex plots. However so are the dialogue, score and performances.

As we follow this very unsympathetic protagonist in a bizarre chain of events which have been strung together to show off various mad ideas such as Casper (Josh Boyd-Rochford), a transvestite helping out a straight-laced Sarah (Lisa Peace) to seduce Danny away from his girlfriend, a scene where portraits talk to each other - and did I mention the singing monkeys?

Baggage is a non-deliberate farce and its attempts to be provocative are embarrassing as vulgar swear words are thrown in willy-nilly, especially in one confusing scene at an art gallery where an old couple deliver a tirade of expletives to a patter rhythm in order to decide what painting they will buy.

Not that I wish to encourage suicide in any way but you'll find yourself silently pleading "just jump" by the end. However there are few more surreal scenes before you're completely let off the hook, including a pleasant little ditty with the lyrics "torture, torture, torture, wo, wo wo". I know: catchy, right?

Until 22nd March

Reviewer: Rachel Sheridan