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Next Thing You Know – Garden Theatre at Eagle London | Review

Next Thing You Know - Bessy Ewa  and Amelia Atherton - Photo NatLPh.
Next Thing You Know – Bessy Ewa and Amelia Atherton – Photo NatLPh.

I’m not entirely sure why Next Thing You Know has been compared to Rent: here, Christmas bells aren’t ringing, there isn’t a funeral, there are no disputes with landlords to speak of, it’s not like the characters are not “gonna pay” their rent, and unless I really wasn’t paying attention, there are no transvestites to speak of. If the comparison really must be made, frankly I’d prefer seeing Rent – it’s grittier and more memorable.

This show is, at least, quirky, and the production has done well in a global pandemic to cast four actors who graduated in 2020, at a time when many shows are pulling in more established names to generate ticket sales (whether in person, online or both). All of them do the best they can with what they are given – Lisa (Amelia Atherton), a musician, is thinking of ditching New York for California, and Luke (Calum Henderson) succeeds in pulling a woman (or a ‘girl’, in his words), which is what he seems to believe he is brilliant at doing. The target of his affections, however, unsurprisingly doesn’t fit his preconceptions of what a woman would find interesting in him, leaving him stumped as to why she’s not immediately wanting to know everything about him.

As with previous productions at the Garden Theatre (which only started post-lockdown), there are subtle references to the ‘new normal’. A high-five is immediately followed by the rubbing of hands together with hand sanitiser for twenty seconds or so, and a chase in the second half doesn’t result in anyone grabbing anyone else because of social distancing.

There’s a fair amount of spoken dialogue in the early stages of the show, and having rapidly set the storyline up, the pace of the narrative is markedly slower in the latter two-thirds of the evening.

There are amusing moments, such as when the twenty-somethings have overdone it and suffer the hangover of hangovers the following morning. Of course, there has to be an entire number about that – it’s that sort of a musical.

At times, it is difficult to feel much sympathy for any of these characters. Perhaps it’s the current ‘unprecedented’ times in which we live: Waverly (Bessy Ewa) may well be at a crossroads with different career paths in front of her, but how many unemployed people at the time of writing are there that would love to be in a position where their biggest problem is deciding whether they should accept a job offer, carry on where they are, or go in a different direction altogether?

Completing the quartet of characters is Waverly’s other half, Darren (Nathan Shaw), temping in the same company as Luke. Like Waverly, he is pursuing different avenues at the same time, and I trust it is not much of a spoiler to reveal that their busy lives eventually put a strain on their relationship.

Occasional breaches of the fourth wall make an already intimate show all the more homely. And there are, to be fair, some good punchlines that cracked much of the press night audience up. It’s no fault of the hardworking cast, but both Waverly and Luke have very sudden changes in outlook that seem to come out of the blue. The production itself flows very well, but too much of the dialogue is infantile. For instance, Lisa’s lesbian identity is, more than anything else, a narrative device for lousy jokes – a missed opportunity to champion the struggles that she and others like her continue to face even in a supposedly more enlightened society. The show does succeed in highlighting how complex human beings and the lives they lead can be – but then again, there are many other shows that do the same. You know, like Rent.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Next Thing You Know follows the story of four New Yorkers as they laugh, love and drink their way through the big questions that face all young dreamers who wake up in the city that never sleeps. One day you wake up, and instead of a hangover, you have a job. Instead of a fling, you have a live-in girlfriend. And instead of naïve dreams, you have reality.

Does marrying a really nice guy mean you’re settling down or just settling? Does taking a nine-to-five equal giving up or growing up? Does a decade in the city break you down or break you in?

Producer: Peter Bull for LAMBCO with Liam Gartland & Alice Croft for The Grad Fest
Director: Robert McWhir
Musical director: Aaron Clingham
Choreographer: William Spencer
Designer: David Shields
Lighting: Richard Lambert
Casting: Anne Vosser

Cast: Amelia Atherton, Bessy Ewa, Callum Henderson, Nathan Shaw.

Keys: Aaron Clingham
Guitar: Ashley Blasse

Garden Theatre at Eagle London
349 Kennington Lane, Vauxhall, SE11 5QY
gardentheatre.co.uk
Performances 20th – 31st October (no performances 26th & 30th)

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