Even BBC Television’s Songs of Praise has long realised that not all expressions of Christian worship in today’s Britain take the form of traditional hymn-prayer sandwiches where the pipe organ reigns supreme. But in Between Us, Elizabeth Carter (either playing herself or a character of exactly the same name) finds herself taking a pew and doing that awkward thing of attempting to sing melodies she has never heard of before. Those of us old enough to recall the pilot episode of the Mr Bean series may remember his visit to a similar sort of parish church, where he fell asleep during the homily. Carter’s experience is rather more positive.
I must say it’s highly unusual for a musical to include the ‘Why Jesus?’ booklet in its narrative. Published by Alpha, a Christian education charity run by Holy Trinity Brompton, it is part of a range of courses and religious literature: to give you an idea of its influence, Alpha’s converts include the Chief Scout, Bear Grylls, the Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, former model Samantha Fox and former cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken. Carter finds her own way to some sort of spiritual epiphany with, fortunately or unfortunately, no comment about organised religion. When the eureka moment happens, it ends the show rather abruptly, leaving, presumably deliberately, a lot of unanswered questions about what happens to the characters introduced during the show.
Of particular note is Luke, the boyfriend who wished to convert Carter to Protestant Christianity in the first place, and the way in Carter suddenly pursues a love affair with “J.C.” (no, not Jeremy Corbyn), which seems incongruent with the encouraging message that JC allegedly left for her (namely – spoiler alert – that Luke is lucky to have Carter in his life). Quite what the new relationship entails is ambiguous, but one gets the feeling that Luke has been dumped for JC, and this, bizarrely, is cause for a big happy musical theatre ending. All I could think was: poor Luke.
The zany ending aside, there’s much to be savoured in a story that resonates well with people who work in the theatre industry, and those highly familiar with it. Carter is in the cast of what I took to be a long-running West End production, given her ability to meet regularly, albeit separately, with her friends Steph and Vicky, over an extended period. It’s all there – the places call for beginners, the profuse apologies for not signing at stage door as she has agreed to meet someone straight after the show, the dressing room banter.
I’m not sure whether it was strictly necessary to have the band, led by Josef Pitura-Riley, fully illuminated on stage throughout, even when not playing. And there are projections of Carter’s diary entries, breaking an unwritten rule that such personal diaries are, by definition, personal, and should not be shared with the world at large. Hashtag fail. But what saves (as it were) the show is the quality and variety of the musical numbers – eleven in total – that progress the storyline and are performed with panache.
Carter has a lovely singing voice in this heart-warming and thought-provoking production that demonstrates, through different characters, different routes to happiness. The show needs further tweaking but as it stands, it holds a lot of resonance and appeal for those looking for a deeper understanding of what it might mean to truly thrive in the modern world.
Review by Chris Comaweng
Between Us is a one-woman musical based on real life experiences that explores today’s desires and influences, the challenges of relationships, self-understanding and a journey to faith. The piece follows Elizabeth, an actress too busy to differentiate what could actually fulfil her heart, and her two friends: Steph, a business woman in desperate need to control her own destiny; and Vicky, the party girl who is on the ultimate husband hunt in order to complete her life.
As Elizabeth drives full steam ahead she confides in her life-coach, Carol, who offers challenging guidance amidst the taunting remarks from the Tannoy in Elizabeth’s theatre dressing room. As pressures mount Elizabeth seeks the company of her friends, Steph and Vicky, and in a quest to save a relationship with her boyfriend, she ventures into a church to see if she can find the spiritual connection she has been missing. As the questions and frustrations become overwhelming, Elizabeth must finally find the answers for herself, and in a surprise ending, discovers hope and an unexpected understanding of the world she is living in.
Filled with original music, laughter and burning questions for women of our time.
Written and conceived by Elizabeth Carter.
Music and Lyrics by Josef Pitura-Riley.
Directed by Rhonda Carlson and Kevan Patriquin