Monday, 2 March 2015

Theatre review: Loserville at the Union Theatre



©Photo Darren Bell

The year is 1971 and American high schooler Michael Dork is in a race against computer firm Arch Systems to be the first to make computers communicate; if he succeeds he won't just be a geek in a garage, but he will finally get recognition rather than ridicule at school. However, when he is banned from the computer room it seems that all his hard work has been for nothing and Arch will beat him after all. Luckily for Michael, equally brainy Holly Manson joins his school and all he has to do is ask her if she wants to help him. After all, she isn't banned.

Unfortunately for the awkward Michael, talking to a girl is easier said than done. And to make matters worse, popular playboy Eddie Arch (son of the man who owns Arch Systems) has his own reasons for beating Michael to the finish line of computer communications, and his interfering tests tentative romantic connections as well as life-long friendships. Among countless Star Trek references, bowling evenings and the Starship Awards, will Michael be able to keep his friends by his side and beat Eddie and Arch Systems?

With a book and music by Elliot Davis and James Bourne (member of Busted/McBusted), Loserville first delighted audiences in London at the Garrick Theatre in 2012. Sadly only lasting a few months in the West End, the original British show was nominated for a prestigious Oliver Award for Best New Musical and rightfully so; it was fresh, fun and it really resonated with its prominently young audience. Besides Matilda, British shows unfortunately haven't done very well in the West End in recent years and Loserville was another victim of the long slew of premature closures, which is a real shame as its youthful vibrancy wouldn't go amiss among the plethora of Broadway imports and screen/book adaptations currently gracing the boards.

If you missed the musical when it was first playing in London then the new Union Theatre production is the second chance you have to grab with both hands. While not located in the West End, the performing space is close to Southwark, London Bridge and Waterloo stations and so easy to get to for anyone in or near London. It was my first visit to the theatre and its easy access and high quality of production for an Off West End venue means that I will definitely be back.

Starting with a subtle tribute on blackboards to the legendary Leonard Nimoy, who poignantly passed away on the day of press night, it was evident from the moment the audience walked into the auditorium that they were in for a geek-heavy night. And while the enthusiastic cast struggled through a what seemed sped-up version of the first song – which was performed a tad too camp even for this otherwise cheesy show and went coupled with poor sound quality – as soon as they launched into the second number, Don't Let 'Em Bring You Down, the cast was on a joyous roll.

The sound issues prevailed throughout the performance, as the majority of the actors were drowned out by the band during their solos. Notable exceptions were Lewis Bradley (of Any Dream Will Do fame) as the charismatic villain of the piece, Eddie Arch; Holly-Anne Hull as Holly Manson, who wants to be the first female astronaut; and Jordan Fox as Michael's best friend Lucas Lloyd, who is writing a sci-fi novel with the working title Galaxy Battles – an epic battle of good and evil set in the stars, I'm sure you can guess where they were going with that and the multitude of puns throughout the show were a delight.

These three actors made the performances of Brains and Looks and Holly... I'm the One particular highlights of the production, though the musical really shone in the large ensemble numbers, which not only sounded wonderful but also looked super fun with Matt Krazan's lively choreography. It was all very youthful and fresh, and for a fringe production the slickness of the visual joy on that stage was impressive.

Those who had the privilege to see Loserville in the West End will likely define this revival at the Union Theatre as a 3-star production of a 5-star show (though if the sound issues are taken care of this would be a solid 4 stars), but with an abundance of catchy pop rock tunes and an uplifting feel-good story, theatre-goers who don't have anything to compare this version with will have a brilliantly geeky 4-star night out.




Loserville is running at the Union Theatre until 21 March 2015. You can buy tickets here.

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