Friday, 22 June 2018

It’s Only Life - Union Theatre

Formed of songs by John Bucchino, It’s Only Life is a musical revue, positioned as enveloping themes such as longing, loss and triumph. Tucked underneath a railway arch in Southwark, Union Theatre’s fringe space provides an intimate setting for Bucchino’s narrative-led cycle of songs. The five performers are unamplified and accompanied by only a piano, allowing intricate lyrics and storytelling to garner focus.

Though the space is small, Justin Williams and Jonny Rust’s set climbs up the walls, adding depth and layers. The design is predominantly white, and clinically so, with pops of pastel featured through an array of objects that signify different rooms of a home. While the songs are conversationally naturalistic and rooted in the everyday, the artificial and cartoon-like backdrop somewhat contradicts this naturalism. If there is a purpose for this contrast, it never quite cuts through the narrative.

Bucchino’s music fuses poetic lyrics with intricate motifs that often build into soaring melodies. Though the songs are similar enough for each to melt into the next, there is a good balance of joy, sorrow and reflection. Stylistically, Bucchino sits comfortably alongside contemporary American musical theatre composers. The nature of his lyrical storytelling and the understated yet complex musical patterns do allude to Sondheim-esque influences, but what Bucchino perhaps lacks is the melodic memorability of some of his counterparts.

The cast (Will Carey, Sammy Graham, Jennifer Harding, Jordan Shaw and Noel Sullivan) deliver the performance with ease; the abundance of incredible vocal moments makes it difficult to just pick out a few. Not only do the five performers excel vocally, but under Tania Azevedo’s direction, emphasise the light and shade of Bucchino’s storytelling.

While movement is subtle, William Whelton’s choreography compliments the predominantly vocal narrative, allowing the cast to channel most of their energy into conveying the detail of each song. Movement becomes an embellishment of character and story, rather than making a statement of its own.

Although each song is packed full of situation and sentiment, if there is an overarching message, it is lost somewhere along the way. The cast hand out paper slips to the audience, to note down their fears and what they have remembered about life, leaving every individual to pull out, or perhaps imprint their own meaning onto the performance. Beyond existing as the name of one of the songs, even the titular sentiment, It’s Only Life, doesn’t necessarily transcend through all numbers.

Meaning and purpose aside, it is a wonderful evening of song and micro-storytelling with exceptional performances across the board.

*I was gifted this ticket, but all words and opinions are my own.

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