BWW Reviews: BEST OF FRIENDS, Landor Theatre, April 26 2014
In the early 90s, Mike and Jim were inseparable mates, living the dream in a band, but the band was going nowhere. So Mike spilts up the group, enters an X Factor-style show, wins and has hit after hit - but hates the razzmatazz and jacks it all in to find himself on a kibbutz.
Jim takes it hard and - always a bit of a wrong 'un - falls in with a bad crowd and nurtures a jealous resentment towards his erstwhile pal. When Mike comes back and starts up a musicians' hothouse to promote "real" talent, young Taylor turns up with a guitar and some tunes and old Jim turns up with the money - money that comes with conditions. Soon the emotions of the 90s are running as hot now as then and some long-held secrets are revealed.
Nick Fogarty's musical has reached the stage at last after a - shall we say complex - gestation. Covering some of the same ground as Harry Hill's "I Can't Sing!", Best of Friends (at the Landor Theatre until 10 May) is an altogether bleaker production, an indictment of the ruthlessness of showbiz and the fragility of friendship. There's an EastEnders vibe to the show, with some of the dialogue a little stilted for my liking, but there's a grittiness to the characters that makes them believable, if never particularly likeable.
The songs are very good, catchy and poppy and sung well by a young cast amongst whom Rosie Glossop's Natalie is the standout voice and Aidan O'Neill, as Mike, the standout actor. Alex James Ellison as singing sensation Taylor has the looks, but appears somewhat uncomfortable with the guitar (in the Landor's intimate space, everything is visible). Fogarty himself is a shaven-headed, scary Jim.
There's probably a better musical somewhere inside this show - most of the characters could be developed further allowing the audience to build more rapport with them before their day of reckoning arrives, and some of the songs might be better integrated into the plot. But a musical with a dark hue is doubly bold and, for that, director Robert McWhir and Nick Fogarty deserve much praise.