“After you.” “No, after you.” “I insist, sir, after you.” The politest of commotions at the theatre door as people were arriving for After You (geddit?) swiftly resolved, it soon became apparent to me that there was no discernible set. This is going to be one of those musicals that relies almost entirely on the acting, singing and narrative to advance its storyline – it was almost disappointing. But I couldn’t, I am pleased to report, be more wrong. For there was something about Chris (Liam Doyle) welcoming his cabaret audience to the Crazy Coqs – and what were we, if not an audience at the Crazy Coqs? Even the auditorium bar was used as part of the show’s set, incorporated seamlessly.
The overture, played by a small but meticulous band, impressed me – After You had me, as it were, at ‘hello’. This musical has a varied and pleasant score: the variation is in the tempo and style of the musical numbers, rather than in their quality, which is consistently high. Sarah (Laura Tebbutt), thrilled with Chris’ performance, finds herself talking to him, and things progress perhaps too quickly. As the late Errol Brown used to sing, “It started with a kiss…”
But, as I say, there is no other set apart from the venue’s own swank setup. There are scene changes, but these are to do with the passage of time. They were hardly going to consummate their relationship in such a public place. Chris has his weekly slot at Crazy Coqs, and Sarah keeps coming along. For reasons that become clear as the story unfolds, they only ever meet there. Although they strike a chord (pun, given this is a musical, absolutely intended) with each other fairly quickly, their tastes and interests differ widely – a source of some amusement: Brief Encounter, apparently, was not brief enough. There’s common ground established when they get competitive in a number that reminded me somewhat of Anything You Can Do from Annie Get Your Gun. Elsewhere, particularly in the title track, the melody soars like the very best of majestic musical theatre numbers.
It’s not exactly a song and dance extravaganza, but unlike a lot of new British smaller-scale musicals, it works, and the thought that this production might work better as a play never entered my mind. Character development is easily realised through the pair getting to know one another, and though it’s another show where everything’s ticking along nicely before a sudden critical incident that suddenly throws everything out of kilter, I couldn’t have foreseen the nature of the incident if I had a thousand guesses.
On one level, it’s yet another love story musical. But it’s remarkably compelling, and the lack of melodrama had a lot of appeal for this reviewer. Perfectly cast (both Doyle’s and Tebbutt’s singing voices are sublime), this short musical is no longer than it needs to be. At the same time, it never felt rushed either. And just when I thought this show would deny its audience a happy ending, the very final moment almost too abruptly springs a ray of optimism for this duo. I mustn’t begrudge this production for bringing the curtain down when it did – it’s always better for a show to leave an audience wanting more than outlasting its welcome.
This is apparently the first ever musical to be staged in this venue. I hope it won’t be the last. I have rarely felt so moved by such a personal tale between two people. An incredible musical, and an absolute triumph.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Liam Doyle and Laura Tebbutt star in writing duo Alex Parker and Katie Lam’s production directed by Alastair Knights, which is performed for the first time this April.
Previously announced in December and now written, scored and cast, After You is the first musical conceived specifically for Crazy Coqs.
After You is a story about falling in love, the price of success, and the things we sometimes need to keep for ourselves. Meeting by chance at a cabaret performance, two strangers strike up a conversation. Unavailable and living incompatible lives, their connection is still sudden and deep. Unable to resist meeting again, they are soon consumed by a perfect secret that threatens to overwhelm the worlds they have worked so hard to earn.
Katie Lam and Alex Parker have been writing and producing musicals and musical theatre songs for three years, including commissioned numbers for the opening of the WhatsOnStage awards and for cabarets of Olivier award-winning actors including Janie Dee (Crazy Coqs) and Paul Baker (St. James Theatre Studio). Their previous shows include All Aboard, Amateur Dramatics: A Musical Comedy (both Electric Theatre) and The Railway Children: A Musical (starring Gina Beck and David Birrell, Holy Trinity, Guildford).
Overall Performance Schedule
Thursday 13 April – 7pm and 9pm (preview)
Friday 14 April – 7pm (press performance)
Saturday 15 April – 3pm and 7pm
Monday 17 April – 7pm and 9pm
Tuesday 18 April – 7pm and 9pm
Wednesday 19 April – 7pm and 10.45pm
Thursday 20 April – 7pm and 10.45pm
Friday 21 April – 7pm
Saturday 22 April – 3pm and 7pm