REVIEW: After You, Crazy Coqs at Cafe Zedel ✭✭✭

After You a new musical at Cafe Zedel

Laura Tebbutt and Chris Doyle. Photo: Adam Bajou

After You
Crazy Coqs at Cafe Zedel,
Friday 14th April 2017
3 Stars
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The talented writing team of Alex Parker and Katie Lam have created an hour-long two-hander for this intimate cabaret space, and director Alastair Knights exploits its potential to the full, in this charming tale of a not so brief encounter between lounge singer Chris (Liam Doyle, in fine voice) and Sarah (superb turn from singing actress Laura Tebbutt). Parker is also producing this event and has taken on Isaac McCullough as MD, with attractive arrangements for piano, violin (Katharine Waller), cello (Will Harvey) and guitar (Rohit Nijhawan) by Martin Higgins. Charlie Nash manages the effective use of light and sound. It’s a neat and tidy package and makes for a very pleasant way to pass an hour in beautiful surroundings and friendly company.

The story here is rather more understated than directly explored. We are in ‘The Crazy Coqs’ and Chris (Doyle) is finishing his act for the evening, whereupon ringside seated Sarah (Tebbutt) congratulates him on the performance. A conversation ensues, and we discover that she is – apparently – being stood up by a client who was meant to meet her there. She is an M&A lawyer and clearly inhabits a very different world from Chris, who amusingly fails to understand much of what she says. He, on the other hand, has career challenges of his own to contend with, about which we hear rather more. Time passes. Sarah continues to visit the club (with a few basic modifications to her costume, while Chris’s look remains unchanged). They talk. They drink. We don’t hear much more about the corporate world, but we do get an insight into the – rather conventional – tribulations of being a performing artist. Somewhat surprisingly, there doesn’t appear to be anybody else in their lives, until – 35 minutes into the show – we find out that Sarah is married and unavailable. So, why is she spending so much time in the club with Chris? We don’t find out. They go their separate ways. They reunite, briefly. And then it’s all over.

After You - a new musical

Sarah Tebbutt and Liam Doyle in After You. Photo: Adam Bajou

There is a simplicity to the characters which is artless and appealing in its own way, but it also makes them rather thinly drawn, and even over the course of an hour, we find ourselves asking rather more questions about them than we find answered. To an extent, this problem is off-set by the pleasure to be derived from the dozen songs packed into the scenes which come and go, charting the subtle fluctuations in their tentative but ultimately superficial flirtation. Some of these songs are very good. Sarah’s ‘See The World’ is perhaps the stand-out moment in the score, and one which could easily have a long and popular after-life: it is tailor-made for Tebbutt’s finely tuned abilities as a teller of stories in song, with each tiny inflection, each beat and twist of the melody opening up new meanings and feelings. The duet for them which precedes that, ‘Touch Me’, is the most dramatically exciting moment, where there seem to be stakes worth playing for; Doyle and Tebbutt make the most of this, and it perhaps indicates a direction that the show might have taken if it was going to produce more theatrical interest. Doyle’s strongest moment comes in ‘The Voice Inside My Head’, one of the show’s many ballads, and the one that allows his lyrical talent its greatest scope.

Elsewhere, the numbers are efficiently written, but they lack the precise characterisation that was the trademark last year of the same writing team’s ‘All Aboard‘. Parker and Lam can write very much more varied work than they here display. The similarity exhibited by so much of the material may or may not have something to do with the speed with which it was put together. Equally, the bold plot lines of ‘All Aboard’ are absent here: Lam has devised a situation where the central relationship is elliptical, not to say opaque. This is a bold gamble in musical theatre, and quite difficult to carry off. I’m not sure that it really works here.
In directing the work, Knights does everything he can to push open the closed world of these two characters, but there are limits to what he can achieve. Although Doyle manfully went through all his moves, despite being incommoded by a dislocated collarbone and having one arm in a sling, and it was lovely to see him spontaneously interacting with guests in the bar (an area where such small-scale operations can really fly), and even though Tebbutt gave each of her many entrances and exits as much differentiation as she could, this is still a sketch rather than a drama. Up to a point, it works, and I hope it will encourage further commissions: there are certainly lessons enough to be learnt from this experience.

Until 22 April 2017

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