There are probably more dystopian plays and musicals out there than there are utopian ones, or at least it feels that way. The possibilities seem more infinite in an apocalyptic narrative, even if there’s always a place for the musical theatre happy ending, and here, in this cast recording of It’s Not Really the Apocalypse, there’s a careful consideration of the various options in a future made uncertain by an unexplained phenomenon in which Gary (Dominic Lo), Lizzie (Carolina Garcia-Cox), Joe (Edward Leigh) and Helen (Emily Chesterton) are the only living people left on the planet. That they know of.
‘Communications’ have been cut off, and all these work colleagues know is that they went on “a four-day bender”, and when it was over, they were the only ones alive. The musical numbers, then, are sufficiently varied in tone and tempo, though the majority are like crosses between music hall and the songs of comedian Victoria Wood (1953-2016). The album is tuneful, with excellent harmonising. One can imagine some of these tunes being performed to some highly imaginative choreography, though it seems to suit the smaller studio theatre spaces rather than the larger proscenium arch theatres, so quite how much performance space there will be should this turn into a full production remains to be seen.
If, after all, “it’s not really the apocalypse”, then where did everyone else go? The play’s title is explained in the final number, but what’s particularly clever overall about the music and lyrics is that they don’t give everything away, so some questions remain even after this recording. The show is not afraid of stereotypes, with Joe being (in his own mind, at least) resourceful and forward-thinking, and the others believing Joe to be rather obtuse and uncollaborative in a seemingly very top-down leadership approach.
The ‘all work and no play’ starts to take its toll very quickly on the non-workaholics in the group – these office workers are engaged in agricultural work, and with various other aspects of the lives they used to live now merely memories, emotions are running sky high. The songs, for the most part, drive the narrative forward, with certain tunes in the second half reinforcing a specific point, such as ‘Please Don’t Die’, which Joe sings to Helen in the aftermath of a critical incident. The song is (whether intentionally or not, I couldn’t possibly say) a parody of the Hollywood movie line “Don’t die on me!” and because it comprises an entire song here, the punchline wears a little thin after a while and it’s rather too repetitive.
It’s not all ‘lols’ and giggles, though. In ‘If I’d Known’, Helen and Lizzie muse about what they would have done differently, and what they would not have done at all, had they had a wider perspective on life. I thought of some Alan Ayckbourn plays that tug at the emotional heartstrings amongst the humour. If ‘Hell is other people’, this doesn’t have to be so in perpetuity, in a plotline that is effectively a coming of age story. The lazy one starts pulling his weight, the busy beaver isn’t quite so uptight with everyone else, and the two ladies, whose parts are, as least as far as the cast recording is concerned, somewhat underwritten, are also feeling considerably more positive.
It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride, but one that leaves the listener with some witty lyrics, strong melodies and a charming plot.
Review by Chris Omaweng
It’s Not Really the Apocalypse tells the story of four friends, who wake one day after the mother of all hangovers to discover they are the only humans left on the planet. Over the course of the musical, they must not only adapt to their new lifestyle, striving to survive self-sufficiently in the direst of circumstances, but they must also overcome a much greater challenge: learning to live with each other. This dark subject matter is juxtaposed with a ragtime-influenced 2-piano score, with a sprinkling of surreal humour thrown in for good measure.
Michael A. Grant is a freelance musician, composer and arranger based in Manchester. He regularly performs a wide range of music on a wide range of woodwind instruments including clarinet, bassoon, saxophones and flute. In particular, he is in high demand with his trad. jazz group The Jelly Roll Jazz Band, and works closely with the Welsh Musical Theatre Orchestra both as a performer and orchestrator. This is his first musical, but if he has his way it certainly won’t be his last.
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