This week, the Waterloo East Theatre shows five original musicals, which were written and produced as part of the Goldsmiths College MA Musical Theatre course. I went to see two of them, Steps and Pieces of String.
Steps has a book by Ruth Carter and music and lyrics by Jen Green. It is about a Latvian ballet dancer, Elissa (Hollie Cassar), who comes to England to join a ballet company, only to find out that the company has gone bankrupt. Not knowing what to do, she accepts the offer of another ballet dancer, Kim (Claire Sharpe) to stay with her and her family in Blackpool for a while. Kim’s brother Tom (Martin Lawson) and her parents (Sid Herbert and Maggie Robson) prefer ballroom dancing and Tom even has a job offer if he gets through a ballroom dancing competition. After his partner Joanne (Jennie Jacobs) leaves him, Elissa takes over and they manage to get through it and happen to fall in love as well. However, before the finale she gets a phone call from Latvia with the offer of a principal part in her old ballet company. Initially she agrees to go back, but then decides she wants to stay. Kim also gets another job as a ballet dancer and everyone is happy.
I did enjoy it, but for me, there were just too many clichés in it and the story was far too predictable. After a couple of minutes I could guess what would be happening, and then it really did. Non of the characters were particularly likeable, mainly because they were far too one-dimensional. I don’t expect fully developed characters, 45 minutes is just too short for that, but a little more depth would have been nice. There were some nice songs in it, which served the story well and the cast was good, too.
The second musical was Pieces of String, with book, music and lyrics by Gus Gowland. It starts with two soldiers who are questioned if they are homosexual, one of them denies, the other answers back. Then the focus moves on to a family: The grandfather, Edward, has just died and the mother, Jane (Anna Lindup) tries to pack all his things up as soon as possible. There is a song about moving on and how Jane hopes that she can just move on once her father’s things are gone, in which the two soldiers join in as well. Her son Ed (Sam Harrison) is gay, but afraid of showing this in public, which leads to problems with his boyfriend Harry (Greg Airey), as does Jane’s opinion that Ed is “just going through a phase“. They argue about it, with the two soldiers singing about that it is “better to hide away, sometimes it’s best to stay ordinary“. While Jane is still packing boxes, much to the dislike of her daughter Gemma (Natalie Giacone), a strange woman, Rose (Maggie Robson) arrives, who wants to see Edward and learns he is dead. Jane disapproves of Gemma telling her “family secrets”, namely that Ed is gay and tries to send her away. Rose tells them that her brother, Tom (Billy Cullum) knew Edward during the war. This makes it clear that the two soldiers are Tom’s and Edward’s (Matthew Seadon Young) younger selfs. She finally leaves, after giving Jane a shoe box full of pieces of string, a diary and some letters. Among Edward’s things there was shoe box with the same strange content, which they sent to each other as a sign of their (secret) love. Jane has to come to term with the fact that her father was gay, as is her son, but there is no real happy ending. Not yet anyway. While Ed and Harry make up, she still “needs a minute“.
I loved the way the two stories were intertwined and, ultimately, how Edward and Tom’s story repeated itself with Ed and Harry, with one of them being more comfortable and open about being gay than the other, but with a happier ending. The whole story just felt relevant and real, the characters were very well-rounded and I was gripped by them right from the beginning. I thought the songs were lovely with some very moving lyrics. My favourite songs probably were Sticks and Stones, My War Story and Standing in the Shadows (I don’t know the actual song names, so I just guessed what they could be called). The cast was amazing, both from an acting and singing point of view. Vocally, Billy Cullum stood out though, his voice is simply incredible, but the others were great as well.
All in all, it was an enjoyable evening, but I definitely liked Pieces of String more than Steps. I asked myself afterwards which one I would go and see again if I could and my answer was clear: Pieces of String. It has everything a good musical needs in my opinion: An interesting story, some great songs and characters that move you.
Both musicals are shown one more time, namely tomorrow afternoon at 3 PM. If you haven’t got any plans, I’d urge you to go and see it. It’s worth the £8 for the ticket for sure!