Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸
A stylised, retro musical, with plenty of heartbreaks and hilarity, High Fidelity at The Turbine Theatre bolsters an incredible and varied original score, insanely polished deliveries by all, an intricate set and punchy choreography. Asserting the theatre’s first musical as a must see!
Clearly stating their aim of: ‘Generating new work. Powering premieres. Re-energising classics.’ The Turbine Theatre’s UK premiere of High Fidelity is all that. Based on writer Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name, this high-flying, romantic, comedy-drama of a musical, has been re-energised for a British audience, bringing the setting back to the novel’s original location, London. The musical, which premiered in Boston before a Broadway engagement in 2006, alternatively had a Brooklyn setting. This staging as a result, gives the show an overall new and fresh feel, anglicising it, whilst of course bringing it to a British audience for the first time. As a result, High Fidelity is enviously vibrant and enthrallingly executed.
With music by Tom Kitt, lyrics by Amanda Green, and a book by David Lindsay-Abaire, High Fidelity follows record store owner Rob, a thirty-something obsessed with collecting rare vinyls, it hilariously charts Rob’s journey to self-discovery through his music collection and his lost loves. The narrative quickly denoting Rob’s talent for losing girlfriends. In response to Laura, (the love of his life) dumping him, he becomes determined to keep her off his list of ‘desert island, all time, top 5 most memorable breakups’, going on to reminisce about all of the girlfriends that he’s lost. What ensues, is a paradorical expedition which sees Rob reflecting on the past, whilst simultaneously hoping for one of the biggest romantic comebacks of all time. Though packed with humour and wit, the musical also boasts a lot of heart and vulnerability, providing a powerful look at what it is like to be a thirty-something and still figuring it out, highlighting just how much music can mean to someone. David Lindsay-Abaire’s book is consequently brilliantly constructed, his work is satirical and light-heated, yet emotionally rich. The time spent by Vikki Stone on the relocation of the setting back to London is clear, the references to Woolworth’s and places in Camden specifically, do much to give the piece a truly British sentiment and provide much more weight to the comedy from a British perspective. Additionally Tom Jackson Greaves’ direction wonderfully draws out the abundance of comedy written by Lindsay-Abaire, making High Fidelity, for its humour, a much needed form of escapism. (And by humour, we mean the laugh out loud kind of humour).
This production marvellously invites its audience into Rob’s ‘Last Real Record Store on Earth’. Engendering this through strip-lights that hang not only in the playing space, but also over the audience’s heads. So when these are initially switched on by store owner Rob, (Oliver Ormson), there is certain spark of magic that makes you feel as if you are instantly there with him, a moment that is beautifully paired with the plethora of band posters scattered around the auditorium. Yet it is the direction by Greaves, requiring the actors to move around and use the auditorium as a playing space, jumping down from the semicircular stage onto a stack of records and then the floor, that really envelops and immerses the audience into Rob’s world. As he addresses us directly, breaking the fourth wall and letting us know his internalisations, we are invited further and further into his story. In conjunction with this, Oliver Ormson makes a stellar leading man, his Rob, although a problematic and flawed character, is charming, exceedingly likeable and comedically vibrant. Ormson excels narratorially, knowing how to work a crowd with ease and as a result delivers several ‘knowing looks’ with just the right amount of intensity and hilarity, timing them perfectly. Similarly his voice is sensational, he has excellent power and tonality, perfect for such a rock-heavy role. Ormson also manages to emote the part superbly, making him a well-rounded, intelligent and truly entertaining performer, he is certainly one to watch.
Alongside Ormson, the entire company of eleven, (including him), are absolute powerhouses. Their conviction and attack is refreshingly inspiring, they deliver Greaves’ uniquely inventive and affectional choreography with ease and determination. Greaves doing well to fill, but not crowd the small space. Additionally the company effortlessly combine voices to deliver the intricacies and nuanced character of Kitt and Green’s variegated score strikingly well. The music is an eclectic and enjoyable collection of Pop, RnB, Soul and Rock inspired songs. The writers taking influence from artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Beastie Boys, Indigo Girls, Talking Heads, Aretha Franklin, The Who, Guns N’ Roses, Billy Joel, George Harrison, Percy Sledge and more. The sound therefore feels very nostalgic, the songs are ultimately original and new, yet they feel familiar, making the score a wonderful and exciting journey through music history. With this in mind, it is worth mentioning that the live band, placed just in view above the stage, are phenomenal. They provide an authentically retro-feeling sound that is big, bold and bluesy. Dan Samson should therefore be commended for his sound design to help to realise and integrate this, (his work of course replicating the sound of a record player’s stylus hitting a vinyl). Like many successful and popular musicals, High Fidelity employs a technique known as Leitmotif. This is where a certain musical style is applied to each character. As aforementioned, Kitt and Green took inspiration from several acclaimed artists, therefore they have crafted a unique and historically-inspired sound for each of their show’s characters. For example, Rob’s straight talking friend Liz is very much inspired by Aretha Franklin. Bobbie Little therefore delivers Liz’s song ‘She Goes’, with a certain Aretha Franklin-esque sass and power. Vocally, Little proving herself to be one of the best. Going back to Leitmotif, the methodology appears in shows such as SIX, Cats and Hamilton, it inevitably, as a form succeeds in High Fidelity as much as it does in those shows. The idea of Leitmotif congruently helping the composers to provided songs that are not only diversified, but reflective of the show’s theme of Rob’s passion for music, allowing them to beautifully pay homage to some of the greatest musicians of our time.
As far as the design goes, as aforementioned it ebbs out into the auditorium, but the stage itself, is designed with an innumerable amount of attention to detail and dexterity. The stage, semicircular in design is literally made to look like a record, giving it an overall thematic and retro aesthetic. Whilst, the shelving units that revolve to provide extra set pieces, are intricately littered with vinyls, they along with Rob’s till and record player, actually bring the shop realistically to life. Other movable set pieces, such as stairs and beds that slot away and almost appear from no where, are incredibly malleable and useful additions to take us momentarily out of Rob’s store. Making the design practical and compact, but ultimately aesthetically intriguing.
Having already mentioned the charm of Ormson and sheer power of Little, we cannot finish this review without commenting on the remaining individual performances as each one is equally as strong and unique, the company proving their adaptability by multi-roling successfully throughout. Carl Au’s absolutely adorable Scouser Dick, (Rob’s friend), is such a treat. Au presenting Dick’s naivety and anxieties with precision and dexterity, his song ‘It’s No Problem’ is irrefutably a highlight. Dick’s love interest Anna, is similarly played to perfection by Rosie Fletcher, she distinctively captures the character’s winsome charm and innocence, as well as her mild discomfiture when faced with romance. Au and Fletcher sharing breathtaking chemistry. Robbie Durham as Rob’s other friend Barry is severely entertaining and astute, whilst Joshua Dever’s delivery of Neil Young/Bruce Springsteen is packed with comedic excellence, Dever proving to be an ardent performer. Alongside them, Jessica Lee and Lauran Rae exude energy and excellence, pulling focus throughout, whilst Eleanor Kane is another highlight. Her delivery of American Country Singer Marie, is sensational, the characterisation and humour perfectly lands, alongside the character’s omnipotent allure. Shanay Holmes’ apple-of-Rob’s-eye Laura is a beacon of clarity, her voice is simply stunning, whilst her emotivity is strong. Finally, last but not least, Robert Tripolino’s Ian, a yogi who ‘handled Kurt Cobain’s intervention’ that Laura evidently moves in with, is strikingly eccentric. Tripolino’s comedically rich performance is defined by his sharp wit and madcap characterisation, impeccably capturing the obliviously annoying and self-centred nature of the Ian.
To conclude every aspect of High Fidelity is flawless. From the cast, to the design, the direction and choreography, to the book and score, we can’t find a single fault, please do take the time to go and support this re-energised musical, you won’t regret it! Click here to find out more.
Book: David Lindsay-Abaire, (based on a novel by Nick Hornby)
Director: Tom Jackson Greaves
Music and Lyrics: Tom Kitt and Amanda Green
Lighting: Andrew Exeter
Design: David Shields
Sound: Dan Samson
Choreography: Tom Jackson Greaves
Paul Schofield: Musical Director & Music Supervisor
Vikki Stone: Book & Lyrics Adaptor
Will Burton CDG: Casting Director
Helen Siveter: Associate Director
Lewis Andrews : Music Programmer & Musician (Guitar)
Robyn Brown: Musician (Bass)
Steve Hynes: Musician (Drums)
Oliver Ormson – Rob
Carl Au – Dick
Robbie Durham – Barry
Rosie Fletcher – Anna/Alison
Joshua Dever – Neil Young/Bruce Springsteen
Shanay Holmes – Laura
Eleanor Kane – Marie/Sarah
Jessica Lee – Ensemble/Jackie
Bobbie Little – Liz/Charlie
Lauran Rae – Ensemble/Penny
Robert Tripolino – Ian