Don't Ever Change

Mon 21st – Sat 26th August 2017

reviews

James Tibbles

at 11:56 on 23rd Aug 2017

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‘Don’t Ever Change’ is a wholesome story of growth and reconciliation. In this new musical Spring Awakening meets Waterloo Road as a group of friends reunite at a bar and examine their days at school through a series of flashbacks. The show seems to take inspiration from Pansek and Paul’s ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ in content, but the plot is nowhere near as masterful. While there is a youthful charm about this production, the clichéd school-girl mentality is a little reductive and verging on insulting.

The central plot-line unpicks the causes and pressures of the rift between Philippa (Amaya Holman) and Ella (Rachel-Marie Weiss). A split-screen stage is an effective visual representation of Philippa’s isolation from the group, but the cast lack the conviction necessary in moments of stylisation. This lack somewhat sets the tone for the whole show. Holman and Ella are good as the lead characters, demonstrating sensitivity and vocal control in their solos, but they are let down by the rest of their cast. This company seems to have glossed over the fact that being able to sing is a prerequisite for a musical. Weak, sometimes pitchy, juvenile voices are fitting for a musical set for pubescent teens, but it is not exactly conducive to showcasing Elsbeth Collard and Rebecca Rebis’ endearing melodies.

The music is sweetly understated, beginning with underscore reminiscent of Stephen Schwartz and progressing to chorus numbers and sensitive solo numbers. Collard and Rebis certainly have potential, but few songs stand out. One highlight is Ella’s prayer towards the end of the show which could be passionately stirring with a little more oomph behind the acting. Luke Dell also fitted his role very well as the unassuming love interest Dan, and did well in an awkward tap number that never should have made the final cut. In general, the whole performance could be more powerful in the hands of more competent singers and more competent actors.

It is also a shame that the compositions are let down by an excruciatingly childish script. Lyrics like ‘one of the cool kids’ might as well have been extracted straight from the Disney channel. While it is nice to see issues about friendship, academic pressures, and sexuality explored, it is a shame that they are reduced to the usual tropes and stereotypes of an American high-school series. Think Mean Girls without the satire.

There are lots of impressive new musicals at the Fringe this year, but these writers from Cambridge need to observe the market more closely if they are to reach the sophistication of this year’s festival favourites like ‘STOP’, ‘Ordinary Days’ and ‘SiX’. ‘Don’t Ever Change’ could be good, but its current state is a troubling trivialisation of school-kid crushes and relationships. The production is certainly fun, but lacks in content and execution.

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Emily Lawford

at 16:13 on 27th Aug 2017

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‘Don’t Ever Change’ opens with four old friends meeting at a bar to catch up and reminisce about their time together in school. But they all miss the one absent member of the group – Philippa, who sits at home, still filled with hurt from the past and unable to join her friends whom she has not seen in so long, although they call her and plead with her to come. As Philippa, alone in her house, comes across an old diary, she begins to remember the past, just as the four at the bar – Cathie, Sal, Ella, and Robyn, all talk over the good old days, starting with their very first day as nervous pre-pubescent girls, and charting their development right until graduation.

It’s a piece of new writing by Elsbeth Collar and Rebecca Rebis, performed by a group of Cambridge students for the first time here at the fringe. I rarely enjoy new musicals but the songs are catchy and well-written, and performed with enthusiasm by all the cast (although with rather patchy vocals from some).

The plot and characters are all sketched with detail and we truly sympathise with all of them. None are mere stereotypes or risk coming off as two-dimensional. There’s a real sweetness and a sense of chemistry between the cast that made it seem like they are all friends in real life.

The musical explores emotions that we have all felt – romantic struggles with boys and girls, friendship squabbles, with some of the girls desperately trying to fit in and be cool while others rebel against the norm and are happy to miss a party for an evening in or a sports match. We see anxieties about academic pressure and boys reflected both in high school and then in the characters’ adult lives. Ultimately, though, all the girls realize that the most important thing in their time at school was their friendships with each other, and the conclusion feels genuinely heart-warming.

It’s a lovely musical that left everyone feeling uplifted and happy. It definitely feels like a university production, but polishing will only take time, and this crew of mostly nineteen-year-olds is clearly intelligent, ambitious and talented. Costumes and set are minimal – with only ties to signify the transition between reminiscing at the bar and flashbacks to the schoolyard, but this adds to the sense of sweetness and youth of the production. Some moments are genuinely very funny and the dynamics feel as real and raw as all our memories of the painful and hilarious parts of high school.

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