When not gazing up respectfully at the stage, I work in a University. This year for Pride, our marketing team came up with a phrase that really resonated with everyone who heard it “Love to Learn, Learn to Love”. Let’s face it, attending university is so much more than just earning your degree, it is also the place where, for many people, they have their first opportunity to take some baby steps into the big wide world without their parents watching their every move. A chance to explore life and maybe find themselves. To get an example of this – without spending £9,000 – pop along to the Cockpit Theatre for the world premiere of Adam Wollerton’s musical LoveStuck.
It’s the first day of uni and fresher Charlie (Matthew Lee) has just moved into his room. For Charlie, a university doesn’t just represent a place to study. Now he is away from the family, he will finally be able to be himself, to get used to being a gay man in the heart of London. However, things don’t seem to get off to a promising start as he meets Lily (Kathryn Kitchener) a strong-willed female photography student and online fantasy role-playing gamer Jake (Luke de Belder). The three of them hit it off pretty quickly and soon settle into uni life. Charlie quickly realises that he is no longer ‘the only gay in the village’ after meeting Ben (Bryn Cash) and his boyfriend James (Samuel Peters). Ben and James are having problems in their relationship but, permanent fixture fruit fly Rachel (Kelly Renders) – for purely personal reasons – tries to help them but it is obvious when Ben meets Charlie that a new dynamic has entered the boys’ lives. Time moves on and Charlie is settled in, relaxed, and having fun. Jake is less online and more ‘normal’ (whatever that is) and Lily seems to have a bit of a crush on her lecturer Mr Conway (Malcolm Jeffries). For Charlie, the only fly in the ointment is that he has still not told his family and especially his brother – and best friend – Sam (Topher Lynn) that he is gay. The big end of term bash approaches and events move fast with everyone’s life changed as reality, in all its forms, hits the students, staff and family.
LoveStuck really captures life in a modern London university exceptionally well. Writer Adam Wollerton, who also directs, has created a set of students the like of which I can see every day as I wander through our campus. Their intertwining stories feel very real, from drunken nights out, to harsh words said in the heat of the moment, this feels like a very well researched story. I hate to use this phrase, but we do see Charlie, and in another way Jake, go through a huge journey over the course of the show. Without giving too much away, the actions both Jake and Charlie take – which hurt more than they thought – in the second act could never have been carried out by them at the start of Act I and as an audience member you can’t help but cheer as you see how far they have come. I did have one slight issue with the story and that was Rachel who, of all the characters, I felt was the most under-developed and the one in whom I had least interest. Kelly Renders played her well but I just didn’t feel that, after her first revelation, there was a lot to Rachel, though it is always possible I missed something there.
Making the show into a musical was a brave step for Adam to take but his collaboration with PJ Nielsen and Jake Few really works. The songs – delivered by a live band under MD Jake Few – range from comedic through to really haunting and emotional. I’m hoping someone has recorded them and there will be an OCR available soon. The simple set by Maria Mitsi worked well in providing the locations required – from the banks of the Thames to a hospital emergency room and the costumes were authentic student wear seen on any campus in the UK. My one, tiny issue with the production was the laptops. If you are going to use practical props, especially in a smaller space where everything can be seen, then have them working. Even if all that was on Jake’s laptop was a picture of a medieval castle or a dragon, it would have added to the reality. However, that’s a minor fixation of mine.
Casting-wise, Lovestuck works really well, and the friendship that blooms between Charlie, Lily and Jake feels natural and normal. All three of the characters go through a lot and the three actors really manage to communicate these changes over the footlights with ease. Matthew Lee was particularly effective as Charlie. A quiet, shy diffident boy arriving at Uni with some books, a pillow, and a lovely little teddy bear, Matthew’s Charlie really grew into a man over the course of the show. Matthew’s singing voice was first rate – as were the rest of the cast – and he really put a lot of emotion into his numbers. Ably supporting Matthew was Kathryn Kitchener whose portrayal as Lilly actually had me a little tearful at one point. Feisty and taking no cr*p from nobody, Kathryn manages to bring out Lilly’s frail, human side beautifully. As did Luke de Belder playing Jake. Looking at the programme, it is difficult to reconcile the picture of Luke with the very nerdy Jake – talk about clothes (and a pair of glasses) maketh the man. Everyone else was equally good and congrats to Samuel Peters for actually making me care about James by the end.
Overall then, Lovestuck is an extremely well-written and produced theatrical event. I laughed, I cried – quietly so nobody could see – and I became really engrossed in the lives of the main characters and their friends. Like everyone else, I cheered when certain really good things happened. Interestingly, I could hear the comments of someone sitting further back who, when James did something pretty unpleasant, hissed the word ‘b*tch’ at him. I didn’t do that, but I knew that person was as emotionally connected to the show as I and the rest of the audience were. Any production that can grab their audience emotionally and hold them in the palm of their hand like that is worthy of high praise indeed.
Review by Terry Eastham
LoveStuck is a brand new musical written by Adam Wollerton with music by PJ Nielsen and Jake Few and lyrics by PJ Nielsen.
Meet Charlie as he enters life at University. Stuck in love with finding comfort in himself, he meets the rebellious Lily and nerdy Jake and forms a wonderful friendship. Follow the trio as they experience the ups and downs of university life involving sexuality, drugs and video games.
For that one thing you love so much that you can’t live without is a LoveStuck… What’s yours?
Due to some of the themes covered in this production, we have an advisory audience age of 16+. Please bear this in mind when booking your tickets.
LOVESTUCK: A NEW MUSICAL
One thing you can’t live without is a LoveStuck. What’s yours?
TUE 25 JUL to SUN 30 JUL
Produced and presented by Curious Tales Theatre
Hosted by The Cockpit