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Falling Stars – Union Theatre – Review

A whistle-stop tour of various tunes from the 1920s, Falling Stars is the equivalent of sitting on one of those open-top sightseeing buses in London and having a whole load of information dumped on you in a relatively short space of time, without any hope of possibly retaining everything you’ve been told. As Peter Polycarpou mentions who co-wrote which song with whom and in what year, one is reminded of the breakneck pace in which Gordon Brown used to rattle off figures in Budget statements in the House of Commons.

Falling Stars - Union Theatre

But at some point, the show gives up on almost constantly supplying the audience with trivia and context and lets the music speak (or rather sing) for itself. I’m not entirely sure why Sally Ann Triplett had to be portrayed as some sort of bumbling idiot who apparently can’t pronounce European names properly, requiring constant corrections. But there’s little point majoring on the minor in a production that goes as far as furnishing the audience with choreography when the occasion calls for it.

Some comparisons are implied between the Roaring Twenties, which came after a significant proportion of the world’s population was infected by the ‘Spanish flu’ of 1918-1920, and what could follow the current coronavirus pandemic. A lot of the songs of the time helped listeners to forget the troubles of the recent past, including the Great War of 1914-1918. There’s no faulting the delivery of a wide range of songs here, and the direct addresses to the audience help maintain engagement with the show throughout.

It feels, however, much like a tutorial or an arms-length documentary, which seems to be something of a missed opportunity, especially given the opening scene, in which Polycarpou either as himself or as a version of himself comes across a faded songbook from the era in an antique shop in Finchley. Were there songs he enjoyed more than others? There’s a hint of how personal the whole show could have been in the run-up to ‘Yes, We Have No Bananas’, itself delivered with pulsating energy.

Tunes back then were, it seems to me, richer in their vocabulary, and considerably less angsty than many a contemporary tune. Or perhaps it is just that the ones that have survived the best part of a century have done so because they are the very best of the era. There’s a palpable warmth that permeates this short and sweet (but not overly saccharine or sentimental) show. That said, while I appreciate that the show was put together in three days, taking a little longer to refine it wouldn’t have gone amiss.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

The scheduled live performances of Falling Stars at Southwark’s Union Theatre have once again been postponed. But, the show must go on and you’ll find Peter Polycarpou (Man of La Mancha, London Coliseum; City of Angels; Donmar Warehouse; Birds of a Feather) and Sally Ann Triplett (Finding Neverland, Broadway; Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre; EastEnders) online in this nostalgic musical revue.

The song cycle is an homage to the composers, collaborators, and publishers of the 1920s, who created some of the greatest music of all time. Enjoy the music of Charlie Chaplin, Irving Berlin, Buddy De-Silva, Ray Henderson, Vincent Youmans, Carl Schraubstader, Arthur Freed, and Meredith Wilson.

1st – 14th February 2021


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