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Review of Paper Hearts at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Paper Hearts Tim Hall Photography
Paper Hearts – Tim Hall Photography

Fresh from an extremely successful run at both the Edinburgh Fringe and Waterloo East Theatre, Paper Hearts transfers into the beautiful venue Upstairs at the Gatehouse. The theatre itself is gorgeous, nestled on top of the quaintest pub in the middle of Highgate – the perfect venue to host this upcoming, home-grown British musical, which works so beautifully in the intimate space.

As an audience, we feel as though we’re being let in on a delicious little secret, as we filter upstairs from the main body of the pub to enjoy this brand new piece of wonderful theatre.

Atticus Smith is our protagonist, an aspiring writer and bookshop assistant who lives his life vicariously through the characters of a novel he is writing – about 1940s war-torn Russia. Trapped in a relationship with a controlling girlfriend and somewhat neglected by his businessman father, Atticus’ escapism is through his ideas for the novel and the little world revolving around the bookshop… that is until the vivacious and spirited Lilly Sprocket arrives to light up his world in ‘real life.’

The talented cast of actor-musicians have us hooked from the opening notes of ‘Angel,’ dancing around the space in a duet with their instruments. Kudos goes to choreographers Lindsay McAllister and Nick Stuart for allowing the actors to be free and animated with the physical choreography, yet letting the instruments and the beautiful music shine through simultaneously.

Writer and composer Liam O’Rafferty is clearly a true talent – the contemporary songs and the pop/folk/rock score is stunning, original and very clever, too, and is what ultimately carries Paper Hearts as a piece, combined with the sharp and funny script.

Adam Small is just fantastic as Atticus, showing us a complex character arc from Atticus’ obsession with his writing to his grief for his mother, to his open and tender heart when he falls for Lilly. Lilly is played by Gabriella Margulies, who does a truly excellent job of portraying the adorable yet self-assured, headstrong object of Atticus’ affections. Matthew Atkins is hilarious as the capricious Norman, and Sinead Wall as Atticus’ (first!) girlfriend Alex is effervescent with excellent comic timing. The ensemble/orchestra is made up of Joel Benedict, Eleanor Toms, Amy Gardyne, Ben Boskovic and Alec White, all engaging and talented actor/musicians who are each spectacular in their own right. A good few of our actors also play two characters throughout; their ‘real world’ character, and their 1940’s Russia character, too – a feat that should not go unnoticed!

Alasdair Baker is captivating as Atticus’ father Roger, and his number ‘Cruel To Be Kind’ is one of the many highlights of the show; other musical highlights include Shame On You, That Makes A Good Marriage Last and the show’s title number, Paper Hearts, which many audience members were cheerily humming along to as we left the theatre. Commendations go to Tania Azevedo and Daniel Jarvis for their stellar direction, and to Anna Driftmier for her inspired set and costume design, taking us right into the world of the bookshop (and to Russia!).

Upstairs at the Gatehouse will be showing this marvellous piece of new musical theatre until 20th May, when it is bound to transfer elsewhere, selling out more theatres and delighting more lucky audiences. Paper Hearts cannot come highly recommended enough.

5 Star Rating

Review by Louise Czupich

Set in a high-street bookshop, aspiring writer Atticus Smith lives avidly through his novel’s characters until the arrival of the fastidious Lilly Sprocket. With a contemporary pop-folk score performed by a company of actor-musicians, Paper Hearts is about passion and finding your place in the world, among books.

Denise Koch for Moon Rock Productions presents Paper Hearts
Written by Liam O’Rafferty
Directed by Tania Azevedo
Musical Director & Arrangements by Daniel Jarvis

2nd – 20th May 2017


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