BWW Reviews: THE VERB, TO LOVE , Old Red Lion Theatre, May 2 2015
The weird and wonderful chameleon that is musical theatre comes in many colours and sizes - from epic and glitzy extravaganzas to intimate and understated miniatures. Integral to all is the ability to get inside a character and convey a story through song - and that is precisely what Andy Collyer's intimate, understated musical The Verb, To Love does to perfection.
The piece (presented by Aria Entertainment in the tiny space at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington) draws the audience in from the outset and keeps them intrigued and engaged throughout in its simple (though not simplistic) exploration of one man's relationships, liaisons and emotions. This is not easy to achieve in what is, for the most part, a one-handed piece. But it works very effectively because of the narrative craft, natural humour and obvious emotional truth of Collyer's lyrics and the innate charm, dramatic intensity and high vocal quality of Martin Neely's performance as Simon.
During the course of the 65-minute mainly through-sung piece, Simon reveals to the audience how he found and fell in love with his much younger partner Ben, how the ups and downs of the relationship enriched his life, how the ensuing break-up caused him to fall apart and how his eventual acceptance of the changed relationship led to feelings of a different kind of "love".
The beauty of the piece is enhanced by Nik Corrall's starkly colourful floral set and Collyer's music, which drives the story seamlessly and melodically. Pianist Gareth Bretherton does a fine job as the show's only musician and sings beautifully at moments when he substitutes vocally as Simon's lover Ben.
This is, however, the one aspect that I did not feel really worked. These moments of intimacy and dramatic catharsis needed the physical presence of an actor playing the role of Ben, rather than having the pianist interjecting his lines, which - for me - were something of a distraction that destroyed the "suspension of disbelief". I also thought that perhaps not enough use was made of the performance space and the action tended to be rooted around a single garden deck-chair or one single spot near the piano.
But overall this is an intriguing, engaging and quite unique musical insight into more than mere "aspects" of love that proves once again that fresh and innovative musical theatre is thriving in London's fringe theatre venues.
THE VERB, "TO LOVE"
Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington
29th April - 23rd May 2015 Tuesday - Saturday at 7pm Saturday & Sunday matinees 2pm