Exposure

Book, music and lyrics by Mike Dyer
Camera Theatre Productions
St James Theatre

Michael Greco as Miles Mason and David Albury as Jimmy Credit: Pamela Raith Photography
David Albury as Jimmy and Nimah Perry as Pandora Credit: Pamela Raith Photography
David Albury as Jimmy and Natalie Anderson as Tara Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Exposure is a new British musical that sets out to be serious about the role of the photo reporter and paparazzo, at the way they invade privacy and exploit the suffering of others in war, famine and natural disaster in the name of public interest and encouraging humanitarian intervention.

It sets out the conflict in a prologue that presents world famous photographer Tucker in an arid Africa. He shows a scan of his unborn son to a local aid worker who tells him of a secret ceremony to break the drought. Tucker covertly photographs the rain dance but is then fatally bitten by a snake as apparent punishment. Rich-voiced Kurt Kansley brings a strong presence to the father. He will pop up several times later watching over Jimmy, the boy born the day that he dies.

This opening firmly establishes designer Timothy Bird’s use of projected imagery: a rapid montage of photographs to match the story and photographic scenery. Imposed on the full-stage African landscape is the moving image of the rain dancer and all then intercut with the shots that the camera takes as the shutter clicks.

Innumerable historic news and celebrity photos are used throughout the show. The resources of co-presenters Getty Images have been widely drawn upon to make effective impact, not matched by the cliché video graphics supporting some scene, though a mixture of video, still images and live action to create a recording studio is impressive.

Jimmy, inspired by the work of his father, becomes Exposure’s protagonist. At school, where his best friend is a girl with ambitions as a singer (she’s going to call herself Pandora), he’s already a talented snapper. They both find success and, in a break from his news reportage, he agrees to do a shoot to launch her new album.

That’s when Exposure borrows from the Faust legend with a Mephistophelian PR supremo offering wide exposure for all his consciousness-raising reportage if he will provide a Seven Deadly Sins set of images compromising celebrities. While Pandora is hitting the drinks and drugs, Jimmy encounters Tara, a homeless young woman on the street selling angels she’s recycled from Coke cans.

It is a simplistic story with even less character development than the medieval moralities it echoes. Most scenes have minimal dialogue and the numbers at such ear-damaging volume that lyrics are often drowned out, though with sufficient repetition to get the gist of them.

Mike Dyer and the dozen collaborators he credits have produced a string of high energy songs, a number of which sound like variations on the same theme. There is a lively schoolyard rap that is the opportunity for some wild street dance, and the volume is thankfully lowered for a brief romantic duet between Natalie Anderson’s Tara and David Albury’s Jimmy and for a beautiful suicide aria from Niamh Perry’s Pandora that lets her show she can really sing as well as screech.

It is not Anderson’s fault that her Tara is one-dimensional or Albury’s that he gets more chance to show off his abs than his acting for they, like the whole cast, give the show commitment and energy, while Michael Greco seems to positively relish his melodrama devil Miles Mason.

Lindon Barr contributes some sparky choreography and Carla Goodman has had fun designing costumes for the seven deadly sins—especially many-eyed Envy and a Breughel-looking Gluttony, but why a parade of those sins? It contributes nothing to the plot, which is already taking on a whole range of issues without properly dealing with any of them.

“What kind of God above watches his children starve?” asks Jimmy Tucker in one song, but if Mike Dyer really wants to be serious he needs to give his show more time to breath instead of just ticking boxes marked Celebrity Culture, Starving Millions, Homelessness, etc as images rush by ranging from the Pope to Princess Diana, John Lennon to Hitler, Che Guevara to a space station.

The programme credits Phil Willmott with direction and as dramaturg but it is also slipped to say Mike Dyer made further changes during the previews. Whatever the story, behind that there seems to be conflict between a serious themed show and a rock fest with Joe Hood on keyboard, Lewis Turner and Richard Coughlin on guitars and drummer Stu Roberts amplified to arena volume.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton