My goodness. What have I just witnessed? Or, more accurately, what have I just been involved in? Because this show, this brilliant show, grabs you, grips you and stubbornly and resolutely refuses to let you go. And I know that it will be with me for the rest of my existence. And I know it will change me.
The show is about change. It’s also about energy and momentum. Purely from a theatrical point of view, after a deliberately low-key opening – in which the wheel-chaired protagonist declares to us that his condition “doesn’t sound like a great subject for a show” – the production is suddenly and dramatically supercharged by the incendiary arrival of Malinda Parris as Doctor Graham, an extraordinarily powerful songstress with an exceptional range. Parris explodes onto the scene galvanising both cast and audience alike and there is no looking back from this point on.
Said wheel-chaired character is Henry Fraser, played with impeccable style and understated assurance by Ed Larkin. Writer Joe White (Book) uses a very neat and illuminating idea to get to the very core of this initially tragic but ultimately fulfilling story: we see Henry Fraser at age 17 before diving into the sea in Portugal, and after, as a disabled, ex-brilliant rugby player. Jonny Amies as ‘Before’ duets with Larkin throughout, providing extraordinary insights into the mind, emotions and need for a new energy and motivation for someone who seemingly has lost it all. That new energy and momentum arrives, with much prodding, from Dad Andrew (Alasdair Harvey), in the form of painting by mouth and a whole new world of colour and vibrancy invades Henry’s consciousness. The show is based on the real-life memoir of artist and survivor Henry Fraser.
Linzi Hateley takes the eye as Henry’s Mum, an effervescent, slightly crazed ball of fire and determination who sings beautifully and with deep-seated emotion. Henry’s brothers – Tom (Jamie Chatterton), Will (Cleve September) and Dom (Jordan Benjamin) complete the Fraser family, all instrumental in that essential momentum and providing the tight-knit security blanket around their stricken brother – though it takes time for all the family to come to terms with the tribulation inflicted on Henry. Benjamin, in particular, infuses the proceedings with flashes of cheeky humour and he is joined in that by the magnificent Amy Trigg as – also wheel-chair bound – physiotherapist Agnes, who is forthright, uncompromising and just the laugh-out-loud tonic Henry needs to bust him out of his feeling-sorry-for-himself depression. Whilst Parris is the spark that lights the fuse Trigg provides that essential momentum that keeps Henry on the path to artistic redemption.
Gracie McGonigal as Katie – shy Henry’s equally shy love interest – adds a touch of classy reticence to the story and Rebecca Bowden as the Surgeon provides white-coat candour.
The vibrant Company leaves everything out there on the stage as they storm through some wonderful big chorus numbers complemented by the exhilarating use of the in-the-round space by director Luke Sheppard who implements all four corner entrances as well as the different audience levels in the theatre. The clever direction is enhanced by Mark Smith’s pulsating choreography that feeds into that oh-so-important energy and momentum.
Colour is a vital component of the show and Howard Hudson’s lighting design, carefully rigged to suit the space, punctuates the action with a sequence of colour washes that underscore the various significant stages of Henry’s plight and the accumulating moments of understanding of his destiny. Confetti canons enhance the colour-washing at the denouement along with a magical soaring moment that has to be seen to be believed.
There are some great songs in this. Solo numbers and choruses alike show that composer Nick Butcher has a good range and knowledge of what works well in given dramatic situations. And it’s brave, I would suggest, for lyricist Tom Ling to walk into the rehearsal room one day and announce that his latest lyric is: “Shit happens”. Repeated several times! I’d love to know what the response was – though I am reminded of David Hare’s 2004 play at The National where he went for the safer, more anodyne title “Stuff Happens”. So well done to Ling whose understanding of how to get emotions across through the words without sounding trite and contrived is exemplary. I’m looking forward to future projects by this excellent creative team – Butcher, Ling and White.
Good theatre, I believe, should entertain: The Little Big Things does this in a rip-roaring, rollicking way – and some. It should inform – and this show tells us a lot of things that most of us don’t know. And it should energise, enthuse and change us. The Little Big Things does all that and it brings the house down at its thrilling and enriching conclusion. The show, combined with this wonderful new space – @sohoplace, make this a truly remarkable and unmissable experience.
Review by Peter Yates
An extraordinary true story about an ordinary family. When one moment changes everything, Henry’s family are split between a past they no longer recognise, and a future they could never foresee.
Can Mum and Dad rally his three brothers; as the family start a journey to overcome the unimaginable? Based on the Sunday Times best-selling autobiography by Henry Fraser, The Little Big Things is a new British musical with an explosive theatrical pop soundtrack in a world premiere production. This uplifting and colourful new musical is a life-affirming reminder about the transformative power of family, and how sometimes it really is the little things which matter the most.
An avid sportsman and academy player with a premiership Rugby club, Henry Fraser’s life changed forever when in 2009 he had a diving accident. From that moment he had a new life to live as a tetraplegic and new circumstances to accept and adapt to. Henry’s defiance and determination to prosper against devastating odds led to him wheeling himself out of hospital a whole year earlier than predicted. Today he is a successful artist, inspirational speaker and best-selling author.
THE LITTLE BIG THINGS
Music Nick Butcher
Lyrics Nick Butcher and Tom Ling
Book Joe White
Director Luke Sheppard
Set Design Colin Richmond
Choreographer Mark Smith
Costume Design Fay Fullerton
Video Design Luke Halls
Lighting Design Howard Hudson
Sound Design Paul Gatehouse
Orchestrator, Arranger and Musical Supervisor Matthew Brind
Musical Director Laura Bangay
Dramaturg/Associate Director Nickie Miles-Wildin
Casting Director Jill Green CDG
2 September – 24 November 2023