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Matthew Harvey’s song cycle Now or Never | Review

There are all sorts of reasons why the world could end – biotechnology, a cyberattack destroying electric grids, global warming, a nuclear war, an agricultural crisis of some kind, or a combination of these. I won’t give away which one Now or Never has gone for, suffice to say that anyone looking for a show involving extra-terrestrial invasion should look elsewhere. Here, the audience must imagine a scenario in which the world will end in seven days, and therefore the characters in the show should spend their remaining time as wisely as they are able. It is, at least, rather better than the four-minute warning conceived by the British Government during the Cold War.

Lucy St Louis - Photo by Jenya Steanson.
Lucy St Louis – Photo by Jenya Steanson.

Almost inevitably, there’s a broad range of responses. Eloise Davies and Courtney Stapleton’s characters immediately set about making plans to visit as many places as is feasible, which is probably what I would want to do. Matthew Harvey’s character wants to travel, too, though his plan appears to constitute getting on a motorbike and clocking up as many miles as he can. I shall leave it to others to work out whether there’s a metaphor (or even a subplot) going on about leaving one’s troubles behind and both literally and figuratively getting away from it all.

Ahmad Hamad’s character, mind you, does just that. The sort of job he has is one where management are obsessed with sales figures and ruthlessly maximising revenue (which is not the same as maximising profit, but that is another conversation for another time), and so, with a week to go before the world ends, he suddenly resigns. Like some of the other narratives in this song cycle, there’s some regret about staying in the office late, and even (if I recall correctly) declining an invitation to a wedding because the pressure was on at work. There are actual examples of this sort of thing that come to mind: I once worked with someone who resigned from a City job after he were so engrossed in work that he completely missed his sister’s birthday.

I really can’t see myself getting a dog, let alone twelve, although Katie Shearman’s character has good reason to, given her recent personal experiences. Her song is one for the pet lovers – of which this country, and indeed the world, has many – and is bittersweet, with some reminiscing about being wronged but some positivity for the future, or at least what is left of it. Lucy St Louis’ character sings about one final book in a series of adventure stories where her main protagonist has displayed courage in the face of adversity, and she hopes she is able to give her hero a worthy finale.

Irvine Iqbal’s character probably had the most poignant storyline, comprising a letter to a long-lost love. I’m not sure why the camerawork was so shaky filming somebody sitting in an armchair, but whether by default or design it created an intriguing juxtaposition with the calm and steady nature of the character. The song itself was well positioned in between two relatively upbeat numbers, and overall the variation in tempo and moods across the song cycle is impressive.

The final number, bringing everyone together, might not offer anything new as far as the world of musical theatre is concerned, but it is a decent and positive show tune, and certainly one for our uncertain times, with a message of hope shining through, one way or another, “whatever happens next”. As it stands, the show is a little too brief – a couple more songs and stories wouldn’t go amiss – but it is nonetheless a heartfelt and charming song cycle, sweet but not saccharine.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Now or Never is a British song cycle with an exciting and ambitious digital twist. Now or Never is a song cycle written by associate artist Matthew Harvey, which follows 7 people as they each take a defiant act of positivity in their last week on Earth.

The inaugural cast of Now or Never includes Eloise Davies (Be More Chill, Grease), Ahmed Hamad (Rent, Stay Awake Jake, The Boy in the Dress), Matthew Harvey (Les Misérables, Violet, Jesus Christ Superstar, Murder Ballad), Irvine Iqbal (The Boy in the Dress, Aladdin, Broken Wings), Lucy St Louis (Man of La Mancha, Motown, Beautiful), Katie Shearman (The Sound of Music UK Tour, Evita) and Courtney Stapleton (Dear Evan Hansen, Six, Les Misérables).

This project is the first collaboration between The Barn Theatre and associate artist Matthew Harvey. Harvey created the song cycle with the intention of writing about individual responses to global adversity without writing specifically about the pandemic. The piece features 7 songs with relatable everyday characters that choose positivity in the face of adversity.

Matthew Harvey created the concept and wrote the song cycle. Freddie Tapner is Musical Supervisor and Ryan Carter is Creative Director, who is responsible for the innovative digital approach. Ben Collins as Director of photography, supported by Ben Thomas & Alex Tabrizi. Harry Smith as Sound Designer.

The digital concert was streamed LIVE for one night only at The Barn Theatre.
barntheatre.org.uk/barn-at-home.

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