When Nick Hornby wrote High Fidelity a book about love and relationships set in a run-down north London record shop back in 1985, he probably didn’t visualise it becoming a film and then a musical that would be running over thirty years later but that’s exactly what’s happened and there’s even going to be a TV series next year!
The film was transposed from London to Chicago in order to appeal to an American market and when the musical of the book was produced on Broadway in December 2006, they kept the American setting, but it couldn’t have helped much as it closed after just eighteen previews and thirteen performances.
Now it’s been revived at the brand-new Turbine Theatre as their second production and first musical and they’ve taken the decision to re-locate the setting back to the Holloway Road where it originally came from.
High Fidelity tells the story of Rob who owns the shop and is just about surviving with its “zero growth potential” and his on-off relationship with Laura, a lawyer who he loves but finds it impossible to be faithful to. It also features Barry and Dick, two nerdy, misfits who work in the shop and the kind of off-beat customers who can be found in any record shop around the country. My son-in-law owns a record shop and trust me, shops selling vinyl records attract some very strange and often lonely people who are well represented in High Fidelity.
The story is told from Rob’s point of view and he addresses the audience throughout with what’s going on in his life and in his head (which includes a visit from “Bruce Springsteen”). As heavily featured in the book and the film, Rob makes endless lists such as his top five break-ups amongst others. Endearingly played by Oliver Ormson who’s on-stage for nearly the whole show, he strains our empathy as he’s not the nicest person in the world but because of Ormson’s performance, we do warm to his character. Opposite him Shanay Holmes is excellent as Laura who wants to be with Rob but is conflicted by her emotions. The rest of the performers support the two leads superbly and the energy given out by the very young cast of eleven, is enough to give some back to the national grid.
The songs are a mixture of styles with rock, pop, R&B, soul, folk, heavy metal, country and rap featured. On the whole the music works really well although there’s nothing outstanding until the opening of act two when Rob having been unfaithful to Laura (the relationship is off at that point) sings “I Slept With Someone Who Slept With Lyall Lovett” whilst Laura (who’s been unfaithful with Ian a strange, hippy guru), sings “I Slept With Someone Who Handled Kurt Cobain’s Intervention”! However, none of the other songs will linger long in the memory.
The problem is that whilst Tom Kitt’s music on the whole works well even if the songs aren’t that memorable, some of Amanda Green’s lyrics are a little trite and don’t always work. Now this might have been because in order to make the musical play for its London audience, writer Vikki Stone has been brought in to Anglicise them and possibly in the process, they’ve become a bit diluted. I don’t know which of them changed the phrase “stock in trade” to “trade in stock” so that it rhymed with rock, but it doesn’t make any sense.
Tom Jackson Greaves directs with a sure hand and also choreographs although there isn’t a lot of dancing in the show – possibly because the stage is fairly cramped although designer David Shields’ set makes excellent use of what space there is and to add to the atmosphere, there are even record sleeves strewn around the auditorium.
As someone who really enjoyed the book and the film and in my early youth worked in a record shop in London, I really wanted to enjoy the musical version of High Fidelity but somewhere along the way it gets lost and becomes just a sappy, clichéd, love story that needed an edge which may have got lost in the translation of the English setting to the American setting and back again. Whilst it’s an enjoyable night at the theatre, it’s just not a great one – and with such excellent original material to work from, it probably should have been.
Review by Alan Fitter
The UK premiere of High Fidelity, based on the acclaimed British novel by Nick Hornby, is the second production in Paul Taylor-Mills’ inaugural season at The Turbine Theatre. Directed and choreographed by Tom Jackson Greaves, the first musical to open at the new Battersea Power Station based theatre, runs from 21 October – 7 December and stars Oliver Ormson, Carl Au, Robbie Durham, Rosie Fletcher, Joshua Dever, Shanay Holmes, Eleanor Kane, Jessica Lee, Bobbie Little, Lauran Rae and Robert Tripolino.
Rob is the thirty-something owner of a London record shop who’s mastered the art of finding rare vinyl and losing girlfriends. Laura just dumped him, and Rob is totally moving on. Hopefully. Well, there’s a chance it could still work out!
Could Laura actually be “the one?” Might this turn out to be one of the Top 5 Most Romantic Comebacks Ever?!
High Fidelity has designs by David Shields, sound by Dan Samson, lighting by Andrew Exeter, and casting by Will Burton CDG. Helen Siveter will be the Associate Director.
Bill Kenwright presents a Paul Taylor-Mills production:
THE TURBINE THEATRE
WRITTEN BY DAVID LINDSEY-ABAIRE
WITH MUSIC BY TOM KITT & LYRICS BY AMANDA GREEN
DIRECTED & CHOREOGRAPHED BY TOM JACKSON GREAVES
BASED ON THE NOVEL BY NICK HORNBY
21 OCTOBER – 7 DECEMBER 2019
The Turbine Theatre, Arches Lane, Circus West Village, London, SW11 8AB