Global premiere of audio musical about a Pandemic love story

By: Feb. 21, 2024
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Review: U.ME: THE COMPLETE MUSICAL, BBC Sounds How did the Covid lockdown affect young people?

All that sanitising of hands, disinfecting food packets, face mask wearing, keeping two metres apart, being trapped at home for hours on work Zoom calls and missing out on a normal social life disrupted the lives of many.

The Pandemic and its consequences, especially on 20- and 30-somethings, are explored in the BBC's world premiere of U.Me: The Complete Musical.

National treasure Stephen Fry lends gravitas as the narrator earnestly telling us the tale of Rose, played by Olivier-nominated West End star Anoushka Lucas, and Ryo (Martin Sarreal, who will be in the upcoming third series of Bridgerton).

These two young strangers – Rose in London and Ryo in Japan – meet online and fall in love at a time when socialising was discouraged, if not actually forbidden on occasion.

Anoushka Lucas

In sung-through operatic style, the two console each other during the darkest days of the Pandemic. They even have an internet date where they pick up chairs and pretend to dance with one another.

Rose, as virtual maid of honour, organises her best friend's online wedding and Ryo deals with a close friend contracting Covid. One song deals with Rose's countdown to the wedding, while Ryo has a very different countdown tune of his own: the terrible days after (spoiler alert) his friend's death. So far, so romcom.

There are a lot of good references to communicating via electronic devices, with terrific text-tapping and pings as messages are conveyed across the world. Well done special effects team.

Martin Sarreal

Toward the end of part one, things look serious. Ryo (another spoiler alert) is all for hopping on a plane to fly for 15 hours to meet Rose IRL. "What will it be like," they sing. "Will it be like the apps? What if I start talking to him in all caps?" Wordsworth it ain't, but music and lyrics by co-creator Theo Jamieson are presumably aimed at a younger generation not quite so concerned with wandering lonely as a cloud to witness a host of golden daffodils.

There's talk of forming a bubble after Ryo isolates for a fortnight. We're all set for boy meets girl becomes boy moves in with girl (and her four flatmates and the worst internet signal in the capital). A happy ending no doubt.

But everything shifts in part two where things don't go as smoothly as a Colleen Hoover romance novel on BookTok. Various themes, including anxiety, loss, longing, forgiveness and starting over are opened up – some a bit more heavy-handed than others.

Jamieson and showrunner Simon Pitts do their best to examine the aftermath of Covid and mental health difficulties suffered by Millennials, but the tone's a tad preachy at times. Perhaps humour would help to break the tension and endear us to the characters more, especially Rose who's hard to like at times.

A shout-out to a strong performance from a likeable Cat Simmons in the role of Anya, Rose's mum, and to newcomer Kamilla Fernandes as Rose's sister Jade.

The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and producer Steve Levine do their best with music tracks that can sound a bit samey, with the exception of Anya belting out a jazzy number. "We move, we move and we move and things improve", she tells Rose who's frightened to face a post-Covid world.

The audio-only version of U.Me: The Complete Musical is available on BBC Sounds, major podcast providers and BBC World Service.

For those who want pictures as well as words, a musical animation feature film has also been released on the official BBC World Service YouTube channel and BBC iPlayer.