BWW Review: HIGH FIDELITY, Turbine Theatre
High Fidelity was first a book by Nick Hornby, then a film starring John Cusack and Jack Black, then a rather unfortunate Broadway musical with a score by Tony Award winner Tom Kitt. The action was set in London, then Chicago, then Brooklyn. The music in it has also varied according to dubious reasons throughout the different takes. A new, revamped version of the show has now come to Paul Taylor-Mills' Turbine Theatre with touring beau Oliver Ormson as the leading man.
Rob (Ormson) has just been left by Laura (Shanay Holmes). With a record shop that's not making any money and an obsession with creating Top 5 lists of everything in his life, he is struggling to move on. Fixated with past relationships - and quite an unhealthy approach to love and sex - he sets out to win her back. An effervescent rock score accompanies his journey, creating the soundtrack for a guy who's equally a creepy antihero and a cute loser.
Musically, the project is compelling but not that accomplished. Very few of the numbers are essential, with some of them ending up looking like fillers. Regretfully, even with Vikki Stone as the new adaptor, the material struggles to find its feet, hampered by repetitive and too-direct dialogue.
The text feels a bit sloppy compared to the performative side of the production, and the piece ends up slightly out of focus. It desperately wants to be a romantic comedy, forgetting - or rather, straight out neglecting - to address themes it mentions in passing but that hold a moral weight on the outcome of the story. Nor does it reflect up-to-date gender politics.
The company, however, is fantastic. Director and choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves turns the flimsy book and sometimes clunky lyrics upside down to deliver a visually engaging show that's swarming with talent. The 11-strong cast may crowd the stage during the more intimate and self-reflecting points, but truly shine during the ensemble pieces.
Ormson is excellent as the handsome and somewhat deranged main character. He introduces Rob as this special snowflake who's navigated his life blind to the needs of others, starting as the kind of man you definitely want to avoid. As he airs his internal monologue to the audience, it becomes clear that his self-centred view of his relationships doesn't quite match reality.
His obsessive tendencies and pretentious idea of love lead him to revel in the self-pity of his break-ups and to a complete avoidance of handling his issues. His problematic behaviours and sociopathic glint in his eyes, combined with Ormson's gravitational pull as a performer, make for a dangerous combination, tempting viewers to excuse some of his more stalker-ish moves and refusal to hear "No" as an answer. The role gives Ormson a chance to show off both his vocal and acting range - despite the dodgy script. He delivers the more profound moments of realisation with aplomb, and produces sound vocals.
His Rob is surrounded by a bunch of guy friends who are as peculiar, let's say, as he is. Carl Au is the nerdy Dick, who ends up having the healthiest relationship of them all. Then we have Robbie Durham's Barry and his mop of hair, and Joshua Dever as TMPMITW (aka The Most Pathetic Man In The World). The trio are sensational with the comic side of the plot - Dever delivering one of the best performances in the cast.
Holmes is soft and sure as Laura, but her role offers limited opportunity - painted broadly as the romantic interest who's done the protagonist wrong. She is flanked by Bobbie Little's Liz, Laura and Rob's best friend and another female character who leaves the crowd wishing they could see more of her.
The look of the show makes up for the shortcomings of the core material, with the natural ambience of the Turbine playing into the run-down 90s atmosphere of Rob's record shop. Designer David Shields scatters vinyls all over the set, building the curated mess that's Rob's life. Andrew Exeter's lighting design switches the action between his mind and the real world, even giving the plot the necessary concert-style illumination it demands.
This version of High Fidelity is entertaining when it's approached with caution. The text might not, sadly, survive on its own, but the vibrant company is worth the ticket price.
Image credit: Mark Senior