Alfred Hitchcock used to favour using a “McGuffin” in his films describing it as “the object around which the plot revolves”. In the case of Lock & Key, the McGuffin is a red key that opens a mysterious filing cabinet that is definitely best kept locked.
Jess (Evelyn Hoskins) is working a probationary period for a book publisher and desperately wants to keep her job. Samantha (Tiffany Graves) is her bitch of a boss who tests Jess by giving her near impossible tasks to carry out and Jess is at the end of her tether. It’s Jess’s birthday and she’s keen to get away early to celebrate but Samantha is on her way to sort out the company’s New York office and gives Jess the proofs of a book that needs to be read and commented on that night if she wants to keep her job. She also gives Jess the keys to the office including the red key with strict instructions not to try and find out what it opens – how can Jess resist? And what will she do with what lies within?
Lock & Key is the brand-new musical from composer Bella Barlow and lyricist A.C. Smith who also wrote the book. It’s a brilliantly written, perfectly formed 60 minutes and the time just flies by. Evelyn Hoskins is superb as the tightly wound, nervy Jess who will do anything to keep her job. Tiffany Graves is Samantha, her forbidding boss who goes through assistants like Donald Trump goes through White House staff, but it turns out she has a soft side after all.
There are a lot of songs (sixteen) in an hour. Some are just short and sharp moving the plot along but there are a couple of superb set-piece songs of which “Chilled Water”, Jess’s lament about her life is wonderfully poignant. There are times when Barlow’s music underscores the dialogue, and this gives the piece a cinematic feel which works really well.
There are echoes of Sondheim (not a bad thing) in one or two of the songs as well as a slightly atonal feel to the underscoring which helps maintain the tension. The four-piece band (or should that be mini-orchestra) consisting of keyboards, violin, cello and percussion are a perfect blend giving the two characters a wonderful platform to sing to.
Alice Simonato’s office set is splendidly realised and she seems to have crammed an enormous modern office with a desk, filing cabinets and shelves onto a tiny stage – saying she’s got a quart into a pint pot is an understatement. There’s also some excellent atmospheric lighting from Richard Williamson.
Graves and Hoskins complement each other to perfection and the difference in their height and build, reinforces the relationship the two characters have to each other. They both give superb performances and give full reign to their singing talents. They’ve been excellently directed by Adam Lenson whose CV includes the splendid The Sorrows Of Satan and Superhero amongst others.
Although this is a two-hander, there is a third character who appears: Giggles The Bear. Giggles is the lead in the book that Jess has to read overnight. He suddenly appears as a puppet in a strange fantasy sequence that seemed like an unnecessary distraction from the plot and I’m not sure really worked in the context of the rest of the piece.
Lock & Key is an excellent piece of theatre and deserves a longer life than the 5 days it’s on at The Vaults Festival – I hope they have big plans for it in the future. And if they do, I have one tiny piece of (hopefully) constructive criticism: there needs to be a full black-out at the end. The night I saw it, the lights seemed to go only half out, and it took a good few seconds for the audience to realise it was over and start applauding which is a shame as the climax to the piece was chilling.
But apart from that, this is a wonderful addition to the contemporary British musical canon and I really hope that it gets the chance to be seen by as bigger audience as possible because it deserves to.
Review by Alan Fitter
You thought your boss was bad…
It’s late. Jess should really be going – after all, she’s missing her own birthday party. But her demanding boss Samantha has insisted she stay to review the marketing proofs of the publishing firm’s disgustingly cheery children’s title, ‘Giggles The Bear’. And left the keys to her mysterious, red filing cabinet…
Alone in the eerie office, Jess can’t resist the temptation of peering into Samantha’s secret files. After making a grisly discovery, Jess must choose what she is willing to sacrifice to keep her job.
Brimming with twisted dark humour, Lock and Key is a workplace thriller for audiences all too aware of the painful demands of modern career success – and the cost of being a woman determined to succeed.
Warehouse Musical Productions presents the world premiere of a brand new musical
Lock and Key
By Bella Barlow and A.C. Smith
Directed by Adam Lenson. Musical direction by Tamara Saringer
Design by Alice Simonato. Lighting design by Richard Williamson.
VAULT Festival | Wednesday, 14 March – Sunday 18 March at 6.15pm (Sat mat. 3.15pm)