Saturday, 2 February 2013

Lift at Soho Theatre

A world premiere musical at the Soho Theatre until 24th February, Lift is a conceptual piece about human connections that may frustrate audiences looking for a simplistic plot. Instead, there's a provocative exploration of relationships, centred on the way we all clam up when we get into an elevator, retreating into ourselves as we are forced into close proximity with strangers we probably have a lot in common with.

At the centre is a busker (George Maguire), who imagines inter-connections between people as he travels up from the platform at Covent Garden Tube station. The journey takes less than a minute, and yet he has time for a nearly 90-minute flight of fancy in which the other seven people take on a variety of roles.

There's a French teacher (Julie Atherton) who, in an attempt to get over her ex-girlfriend, visits a lap-dancing club and meets a pole-dancer (Cynthia Erivo). She's the friend and confidant of a young ballet dancer (Jonny Fines) who seems to be a womaniser but is actually a closeted gay. In a web chatroom he pretends to be a girl so he can flirt with a straight young businessman (Luke Kempner), who in turn seems oblivious to the debilitating crush his secretary (Nikki Davis-Jones) has on him. There are also two American tourists (Robbie Towns and Ellie Kirk) in the lift, and they take on the roles the dancer and businessman create online.

These scenes shift and flow in and out of each other, repeating and circling as the busker uses them to try to sort out his own relational issues. And while it's fascinating to watch, we never quite understand the gist of what's essentially a journey through one man's emotional baggage. It perhaps doesn't help that the book and lyrics both feel somewhat underwritten, continually using banal observations rather than more telling inner yearnings.

Even so, the cast members bring everything to vivid life with storming performances. The songs have a belting quality that's reminiscent of Rent, with a terrific rock band to back them up. The actors constantly find resonance in the songs, reminding us of our own relationships, most notably how everything reminds us of our exes, even though we are trying so hard to forget them and move on.

Technically the show looks great, with an intriguingly industrial-style set that shifts and changes shape and colour for the various scenarios. It may be impossible to follow - or to even figure out what the central theme is - but there's plenty here to enjoy in the performances and the way so many small ideas get under the skin.

Directed by Steven Paling
Music & lyrics by Craig Adams
Book by Ian Watson
Produced by Jim Zalles (Theatre Bench), Ros Povey, Andy & Wendy Barnes (Perfect Pitch)

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