Grim – A New Musical
Book and lyrics by Fiona O’Malley, music by Joseph Alexander
The Untold Theatre Company
Charing Cross Theatre
As the audience take their seats, black-cowled figures line the shadows of the aisles and crowd the stage while a few bars of eerie, tinkling music are continually repeated
It is an opening that sets up this new musical to be very grim indeed. However, Grim is in fact the name of its leading character, who seems to be the leader of these solemn figures, and she is about to join a high school class as the new girl.
This is a strange mixture of high school musical and grim fatalism and musically too it is an unusual amalgam of electro-acoustic pop and operatic ideas, a sort of Orpheus and Eurydice in reverse, though phrases that sound as though they are going to launch an aria rarely take off but there are strong musical ideas here with complex harmonies.
The lyrics of the opening number are too indecipherable to know if it tells a back-story, but it rapidly moves into the drama of a burning house with a fraught mother and her daughter begging someone to save their little son and brother, the first of a succession of deaths that come when Grim is around. It doesn’t take long to realize she is Death’s personification.
What is rather more surprising is that the Essex-accented schoolboy on whom all the girls seem to dote is Eros, love personified and still carrying some of his cherubic chunkiness. One strand of the story is their mutual attraction (with faint echoes of Cocteau’s Orphée), as Death discovers something of human emotion.
Another strand is the friendship between Grim and Amelia, the girl whose brother was burned, an outsider spurned by her classmates, and then there is the growing romance between Amelia and good-looking Matthew, whom Grim encourages her to chat up.
The book reveals little about these characters beyond what is essential to the plot, relying on the performers to hold our interest. Roseanna Christoforou’s Grim and Anthony Matteo’s Cupid have strong voices and a confident presence, but, although almost everything is directed straight out front rather than between them, there is little real communication with the audience. Perhaps, given their symbolic, non-human roles, director Adam Wollerton thought it inappropriate.
Jordan Veloso and Georgi Mottram are much more warm and animated as Matthew and Amelia. Helped by more information about her situation, this couple make you care about them, Mottram especially building a real character.
In contrast, the cameo of a schoolteacher and the trio of girls who treat Amelia so badly are written and played as caricatures but, hampered by the dourness of the all-black setting and the earnestness of most of the playing and perhaps inexperience on the part of some of the performers, the comedy falls flat and is not integrated into the production.
There is some confusion also when the ensemble, dressed in school uniform, are given zombie-like choreography too, like that when in their cowled personas as Death’s attendants, though this young cast perform with great concentration.
I don’t like pocket-holing creativity and welcome cross-fertilization, but this mix of tragic love story, black comedy and gothic horror is pulling in more different directions than this cast can handle. Red ties and a couple of red dresses are not enough to lift it out of the prevailing blackness.