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Then, Now & Next at Southwark Playhouse | Review

Then, Now & Next tells the story of Alex played by Alice Fearn, and her relationships with the two men in her life, Stephen (Joaquin Pedro Valdes) and Peter (Peter Hannah). Over a ten-year period where Alex goes from 30 to 40, we follow her story as her life changes when events occur to alter her journey. Told in a non-linear timeframe where sound and lighting effects indicate the plot moving backwards and forwards in time. Along the way, we discover how she meets both men and how she deals with the ups and downs that life throws at her. At times the two stories overlap and we sometimes see both men on stage although it’s not occurring in real-time – it’s just a device to show Alex’s emotions as she has to deal with and overcome a major tragedy that moves her on from Stephen to a new life with Peter.

Peter Hannah (Peter), Alice Fearn (Alex Shaw) - credit Pamela Raith.
Peter Hannah (Peter), Alice Fearn (Alex Shaw) – credit Pamela Raith.

The problem with Then, Now & Next is that it’s all a bit bland. The songs from writers Christopher J Orton and Jon Robyns just aren’t very memorable and the book (also from Orton and Robyns) is full of clichés. The show is also missing an emotional core – Alex goes through the tragedy of losing the love of her life but we never feel her pain – there’s no tension, no real depth to the writing – it’s all on one level when we need to feel Alex’s heartache and neither the songs nor the dialogue conveys enough of that.

Apart from the three main characters, there are various smaller parts played by Tori Allen-Martin and Justin Brett who interact with the others playing nurses, maître d’s and doctors amongst others. Everything in the piece is very comfortable and middle-class apart from two characters played by Allen-Martin, an ice cream seller and a girl at a party that are so over the top working-class that they descend into parody and are totally out of place as if they’ve been parachuted in from a farce playing at another theatre.

Bob Sterrett’s interesting set design has an abstract backdrop of various domestic items stuck on a wall, which are all painted white as are all the props although for some reason there’s a real fridge. Unfortunately, Julie Atherton’s direction is at times very uneven and there’s too much moving in and out of props. The space does have to act as a number of different locations such as Alex’s various flats, an office a hospital, a cemetery and even a unisex toilet but the constant bringing in of beds, sofas, desks etc, is at times very distracting.

What salvages Then, Now & Next is the excellent singing of Fearne, Hannah and Valdes who do their best with some ordinary material. They’re backed by a fine band consisting of keyboards, guitar, cello and drums which is conducted superbly by Honor Halford-MacLeod playing the lush arrangements of Ben Goddard-Young.

Then, Now & Next has been a long time in the making as Orton and Robyns started the process in 2013 and it’s been a difficult journey to get the musical produced. Unfortunately at times, it feels unfinished with the songs shoehorned into a very slight plot. There’s some cod philosophy at the end about staying strong and everything taking time but it just doesn’t really hang together and the ending is very odd indeed.

Then, Now & Next is a fairly rare beast – a brand new British musical from two writers making their debut being produced at the Southwark Playhouse, one of London’s elite off-West End theatres so great kudos to everyone involved – it’s just a shame that the end result didn’t really live up to the promise.

2 gold stars

Review by Alan Fitter

Struggling with a difficult past, Alex Shaw is attempting to take steps forward. We follow her journey over twenty years, through two loves – young, adventurous idealist, Stephen, and the older, reliable and charming Peter – as she gathers the scattered chapters of her life, in the hope of re-building her story and asking if she will ever be more than just “fine”. Through Alex’s experiences, her uplifting story questions how relationships can change over time and explores what it takes to truly heal. Accept what was. Embrace what could be.

Paul Virides Productions presents:
by Christopher J Orton and Jon Robyns
Directed by Julie Atherton
Orchestrations, arrangements and musical supervision by Ben Goddard-Young

23 June – 29 July 2023
Press night: Wednesday 28th June

Cast: Alice Fearn, Peter Hannah, Joaquin Pedro Valdes, Tori Allen-Martin, Justin Brett
Band: Honor Halford-MacLeod, James William-Pattison, Alice Luddington, Tom Bennett
Musical director: Honor Halford-MacLeod; Movement director: Alexzandra Sarmiento; Set and costume designer: Bob Sterrett; Lighting designer: Adam King; Sound designer: Raffaela Pancucci; Production manager: Titch Gosling; Dramaturgy: Kate Golledge; Stage manager: Zoe Leonard; Assistant stage manager: Odette Robertson; Sound operator: Amber Carey; Produced and general managed by Paul Virides Productions.

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