Payback The Musical

Paul Rayfield
Milton Morrissey
Riverside Studios (Studio 3)

Chris Kiely as Steve, Georgie Freeman as Stacy and Matthew White as Matt Mathews Credit: Phil O'Connor Sportive Photo Limited
Katie Bernstein as Isabel and James Yeoborn as Guilherme Credit: Phil O'Connor Sportive Photo Limited
Matthew White as Matt Mathews (centre) with Chirs Kelly as Steve, Georgie Freeman as Melanie, Adam Flynn as JoeDouglas Rutter as Harry and Holly Brennan as Verity Credit: Phil O'Connor Sportive Photo Limited

This new musical, with both words and music by Paul Rayfield, is set a couple of years ahead in 2016 when the government has started privatising the legal system, transferring paternity cases to a television reality show that replace the courtroom.

Its operation is not quite clear. At one point it seem to suggest award by audience vote but then comes a number in which the host declares himself both judge and jury. Or perhaps that is the point. The myth of power to the people actually sees it transferred into the hands of the media and big business.

Think Jeremy Kyle with a huge cash prize awarded to those who win their case. There are lie detector tests and heavies to break up fights which aren’t just between contenders and defendants. There’s little love lost among the television team either.

It is impossible to ignore that Jerry Springer the Opera already took on that kind of show but this is much less savage. It won’t bring out the Bible bashers or shock your auntie. There is a simple love story at its centre about a young couple running a failing coffee shop, the Cafe Caipirinha, in a Rio favela.

James Yeoburn and Katie Bernstein play this pair with naïve innocence but they are only half of the story. The baddie of the piece is the Springer character who is a nasty piece of work played, with a professional smirk that hides a scowl, by Matthew White. His AMTV producer Sam (Sarah Earnshaw) would love to lose him but his contract makes him too expensive to buy out. Then there is floor manager / co-presenter Joe (Adam Flynn), who introduces the show with a studio warm-up but thinks he’s in cahoots with Sam with his eye on Matt’s job.

There is a prologue set in 1997 of a shooting in a pop star’s hotel room in Rio. It takes a long time before it is clear how this fits into the story. Perhaps it happens so suddenly and so fast that information is easily missed that would flag things up, but whatever your guesses the plot has a twist or two to catch you out.

There are catchy tunes and lively lyrics. The score isn’t breaking new ground but it is easy on the ear and it is performed with vitality, especially on the part of the ensemble of Holly Brennan, Georgie Freeman, Chris Kelly and Douglas Ritter, though even that is topped by Howard Samuels's resuscitated rock star Billy Life’s bravado.

Kate Unwin’s design makes good use of Lorna Lomax’s video, but the fold-out scene changes on one side of the stage tend to slow the pace of Simon Greiff’s direction. The changes might be better served by some choreographic cover for, though there are some nimble feet around, the show could do with more dance and perhaps a little more injection of romance to enhance its popular appeal.

Payback makes an extra point in the way it so easily turns its audience into an obedient studio audience, clapping, cheering and booing to order, uncritical in its Pavlovian responses. Is Rayfield also suggesting that this mirrors the way that politicians now manipulate public feeling?

There is certainly a political critique obvious in the video news that charts the gap from 1997 to 2016, but elsewhere it gets submerged beneath the emphasis on entertainment value and it doesn’t have much bite.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

Are you sure?