Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Lift

Music and lyrics by Craig Adams, book by Ian Watson
Theatre Bench and Perfect Pitch
Soho Theatre

Lift Credit: Darren Bell

This new British musical that has been in development quite a time with workshops, a showcase and a concept album, now it gets its world première in a lively production directed by Steven Paling with a stylish setting by Georgia Lowe and a cast of fine voices. Does it now deliver?

Well, the hard-working cast certainly do and the music is listenable enough. It doesn’t have big tunes that stick in the head but the settings fit what the songs are saying and match character, and surely that is a good start.

It presents sixty seconds spent going up or going down in a lift at Covent Garden station on the London Underground, maybe just one journey, perhaps many with the same regular travellers, though there is one pair of tourists who could not be regulars—but maybe the are a generic succession of visitors.

As it goes outside the lift to dip into individual stories, you're never quite sure if they are as lived or as others imagine them. The incidents could be "real life" though the people remain nameless. It is far from naturalistic. These passengers move around each other and that reflects the way that their stories or their imaginings sometimes seem to interact and overlap which makes their reality more likely. Any obscurity is probably intentional but the performers engagement with their characters makes one want to know more about them.

There is the guitar-playing busker (George Maguire) who takes up his pitch and rapidly gets the show going by creating a bond with the audience. There is a Newcastle lad (Jonny Fines) who goes to footie with his friends with a girl who thinks they’re engaged when he’s up north playing straight but in London is at ballet school and out of the closet.

There is a well-turned-out secretary (Nikki Davis) and her work colleague in the office (Luke Kempner). There’s a girl, probably a fellow student, who is the Geordie lad’s confidante and works in a lap dancing club to support herself and a lesbian French language teacher who buys non-touching time from her at the club. Add a visiting Canadian and his girlfriend and you have the lift full.

Of course this is about isolation, loneliness and needing love, about our failure to communicate. When did you last speak to someone on a bus, on the tube, in a lift? In a generation that seems more concerned with lifestyle than living, where life is spent in front of a computer and communication through texts, chat-rooms and folk get their jollies online, real contact can be hard to come by (though the Geordie does get a blow-job in a sauna).

The secretary doesn’t know that someone in the lift really fancies her, and her work colleague doesn’t realise that she fancies him. Certainly that guy doesn’t realise it is the Geordie who is the other person in the chat room in which both of them pretend they are someone else. Their online personae (Robbie Towns and Ellie Kirk who also play the tourists) are “Tall, Dark and Handsome” and “Athletic and wearing a thong” though he is a she and called Sara. It’s relevant that that is the only character in the show that gets a name, and even that is admitted to be a fake one.

In contrast to the isolation of the characters the actors make good contact with the audience and you want to know more about them. In a single 75-minute act of tantalising snippets you are denied that: it may emphasise the theme but drama needs more development.

Though there is no dance choreography, the cast give a strong physicality as they turn the lift into a sauna, flaunt white umbrellas for one number and ring coloured neon changes when manoeuvring the set.

Catch it at the Soho to see this cast but it would gain from more work done on the book.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton