Jake's Progress

Wed 15th – Sat 18th February 2012

reviews

Sara Pridgeon

at 10:00 on 16th Feb 2012

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0disagrees

Richard O’Brian and Matt Kennedy’s Jake’s Progress is a difficult show to categorize. Whatever their intentions might have been, this is not a show that I could take very seriously. Though it makes for an enjoyable hour, in the end it feels more like a show that your friends have put together than anything else. Because the story, like the characters themselves, is more of a representation of fame and the music industry than anything else, it is not too difficult to overlook the fact that the show is rather superficial. We don’t get a real feel for the characters – and perhaps this is the point, because they are all essentially replaceable. This is certainly true of the main characters, and is most easily visible with the chorus of hipsters – and the chorus that was, for me, one of the more ingenious elements to the show. The songs were generally enjoyable, with witty enough moments to make up for any instances of vocal blandness or lack of expression. “Strawberry Laces” was fantastically bad, and hearing it at the end of the show in full was both an amusing moment and a pointed comment on what it takes to be famous, and the level of talent (or apparent lack thereof) that one must have.

Though the chorus of hipsters were at times very funny, at others they did cross the line to being too caricatured. Happily, this was not the case in their first appearance, at the party thrown for Jacob. Nathan O’Neill’s line about his character’s refusal to use “meat-based idioms” was well received (and rightfully so), and the hipsters’ song – which asked Jacob where he bought his jumpers, who his favourite Beatle was – was one of the most enjoyable to watch and was also highly effective from a narrative standpoint. Charlie Daniels’ reporter was her strongest role of the evening, and the party scene as a whole (especially the miming of doing shots at an imaginary bar) was one of the most memorable parts of the show. The chorus did well filling the various supporting roles. That having been said, performances were uneven, and it took actors time to become comfortable in their roles. This was especially true for Kathryn Armstrong (Sarah): in her first song, a duet with Liam Shaw (believable and well cast as Jacob), it was extremely difficult to hear her, even though she had a microphone; she became more at ease (and audible) as the show went on. The same can be said for Marie Findlay (Tabitha). Though she sang well in her later numbers, I could barely hear her in her first number, and her voice (and her presence) was overpowered by Maria Fleischer (Carenza). Shaw was enjoyable to watch throughout the show, and he was one of the more consistent actors in the cast. Will Davies did well in the role of Duncan, despite having a rather uneven script – at times his lines and jokes were humorous and well delivered, but at others, they were too outlandish to really work. And this, I believe, was a continual issue with the production: it toed a fine line between being funny and being too much.

The set was simple and the cast moved well in the space; having the stage on split levels (one on the floor, another raised up, with the band) made things visually more interesting. The set changes could still use some rehearsing. At times they went very smoothly (mostly because props and pieces of set were stored underneath the raised platform) but this was not always the case – this will undoubtedly be improved upon during the run. Playing The Smiths during the set changes went a long way towards ironing them out (though admittedly, I can’t complain too heavily when a succession of my favourite songs are being played), and helped pass the time while we were waiting for the show to start.

All in all, Jake’s Progress is a fun new musical, but it doesn’t make great strides towards investing the audience in the storyline or in the performances. It’s not a slick show, but this isn’t necessarily a problem, as its at times cobbled-together feel works well with the narrative. As long as you don’t expect anything too profound, and you like The Smiths (or, at least, know who they are – otherwise you’ll miss the point of the amusing opening number, “Be Like Morrissey”), it’s definitely an enjoyable show, with some very funny comic moments and a casual feel.

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Hyunwoo June Choo

at 10:24 on 16th Feb 2012

1agrees

1disagrees

Much thanks to the dominating prevalence of pop culture, all of us have a vague idea of the drama in the entertainment industry—a young YouTube prodigy’s rise to fame, sensationalist scandals of superstars, and the oft unfortunate choices they make when their spotlight dims to darkness—it’s nothing foreign. An original musical written by Richard O’Brien and directed by Tommo Fowler, Jake’s Progress follows this rollercoaster ride to fame in the perspective of the artist Jacob, presented with some slightly pretentious humor and good tunes.

Aside from his very trying “vintage” daisy jumper, Jacob (Liam Shaw) is otherwise an average young musician with big dreams. A successful showing in London lands him in a Faustian contract with Duncan (Will Davies), a talent agent, who ushers Jacob to the big scene. Jacob indulges in this euphoria of fame, but alas, good things must come to an end; after an ephemeral bout of love and attention commences scandals, prison, and embarrassing gigs.

Whilst the plot could be looked upon as just another satire at pop life, the humor is rather unique. It’s an eclectic mix of in-your-face, highbrow and punny type, but with the sheer amount of reference contained within, it pans out to be a hit-or-miss depending largely on how well-versed one is in contemporary cyber culture. I may not have caught all of O’Brie’s wit in its full glory, but still found myself chuckling every other line, and the rest, in awe of how cleverly random facts were so subtly woven together. I just may need to see it twice.

Fowler’s staging screams hipster, and very appropriately so. On the center stage rostra casually sits the band, and surrounding them are old gramophone records hanging from the ceiling. The band exudes a sort of low-key vibe throughout the musical, and well deservedly brings attention to Matt Kennedy’s music.

Music transitions seamlessly into the situation adding a casual tone of the whole piece. The actors handled the singing in that precisely relaxed manner, nothing over-the-top with extended vibratos or excess drama. The lyrics also have their bounty of comedy; scenes of hipsters particularly come to mind. I suggest sitting nearer to the front, as at times, their voices do not project as loudly, which is important considering the comedic value of each line.

Generally, the acting was natural, though at times, the delivery of jokes seemed anticipated. With more ease, the actors might be able to reach the full comedic potential.

Justin Timberlake once asked, “what is the deal with this pop life and when is it going to fade out?” Well, this musical has an answer, a hilariously hipster one.

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