REVIEW: Catch Me, Above The Arts Theatre ✭✭✭

Catch Me the musical at the Arts Theatre

Catch Me
Above The Arts Theatre
23rd November 2016
3 Stars
Book Tickets To Catch Me

It is very exciting to discover an extremely promising new musical theatre writing team in Arnoud Breitbarth and Christian Czornyj, whose debut work, ‘Catch Me’, has just opened in a chamber production in the upstairs room over The Arts Theatre in the West End. Breitbarth and Czornyj collaborate on all aspects of the writing, sharing book, music and lyrics between them: it is, in their own words, a lively collaboration, and one that is bearing strangely original fruit. Earlier this summer, I saw a workshop of some of Breitbarth’s other writing presented by Mountview Academy’s short-lived Writing Musical Theatre course, of which he is an alumnus. It is a little bit sad that Mountview felt it could not continue with a course that has already – in this wonderful work – produced a very good piece of new musical theatre. However, the financial pressures under which such courses have to run are punishing: that, of course, is a question for funding bodies to consider.

Put simply, here we are an open stage housing a large new coffin (Czornyj’s own production design – he may also be responsible for the lighting), in a scene reminiscent of Orton’s ‘Loot’; there is an opening chorus of quite beautiful music, handsomely sung by the company of five, which immediately signals the great musical strength of this partnership. Then, we proceed into an opening scene, when it is the day before the funeral of Dean: his bereaved fiancee, Sarah (Kathryn Pemberton in nervously fractured but capable mood), welcomes married friends Christine (bossy, worldly Jennifer Tilley) and Colin (the insufferable God-botherer Neal Andrews), and contenders for the role of ‘best friend’: Harry (the athletically masculine and dashingly good-looking Connor Arnold) and Marc (edgy, neurotic, Asperger’s-type obsessive and literally-minded Matthew Munden). Wine is produced and they manoeuvre around each other, bumping into exposed sensitivities and vulnerabilities as the alcohol loosens inhibitions and tongues. There is much humour, and a few neat theatrical twists, especially the one that concludes the first half.

Catch Me the musical at the Arts Theatre

After the interval, we are brought into the day of the funeral, and the audience believes it has the water of these characters and knows where it is with them: that’s where the writers play their trump card, and throw the whole game into splendid disarray with a magnificent bouleversement that sets us off in an entirely different and unexpected direction. The briefer second half is more packed with music than the first, and has far more action on stage, reaching out into the audience, wilder, with the action pushing forwards to a resolution of the tensions set up between these uncomfortably mismatched people.

The music remains strong throughout, gaining power into the second half. Lyrically, Breitbarth’s Dutch origin may have something to do with some rather arch and unidiomatic turns of phrase, or they may lie in Czornyj’s heritage: they are more at home with the dialogue, which speaks so happily that it seems to be the work of other hands, which it isn’t. Resulting from the premier staging of this work, there may be changes to the positioning and/or structuring of some of the musical numbers, but that is what workshop productions are for. Decor here is kept to an absolute minimum: a handful of chairs and a few wine glasses, and a pile of unopened mail. The band is a trio of piano, cello and guitar, led by Rebecca Grant on the keyboard, with arrangements by the guitarist Connor Gallagher (elaborating a detailed written score), supported by Emma Melvyn. The splendid vocal arrangements are by the writers.

Catch Me the musical at the Arts Theatre

The one member of the company not yet discussed is The Loved One, Dean (Reuben Beau Davies in feisty, vividly charismatic form). He is here to represent one of the 4,500 British men under 45 who kill themselves each year: suicide being the No.1 killer of that age group. Theatre is full of celebrated suicides, quite a few of them men, and many of them have close relationships. Shakespeare wrote many such parts, and lots of other wonderful writers have followed suit since. In most cases, those destroying themselves are given pretty clear motives for their actions: also, when in relationships – or not – the nature of their emotional entanglements is most commonly portrayed as being of a piece with their tragic destiny (think Romeo and Juliet, or Anthony and Cleopatra?) not so here. It’s actually quite a struggle to place a character so vital and lively – like one of David Mercer’s rebels – amongst the Ayckbournian mediocrities who have gathered around his coffin.

I came away from the performance greatly impressed by the technical achievement in constructing an ingenious chamber musical with the material, but rather in the dark about what reasons had driven it along. This may be an area that the writers will want to address as they reflect upon the work in its run of performances at Above the Arts.

Catch Me runs until 3 December 2016.


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