We wait forever for an original new British musical, not written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, to turn up in the West End, but then one arrives and what happens? People in the industry snipe; aspiring members of the profession offer snide dismissals; audiences criticise; and finally critics carp. No, Loserville is not perfect; and I’m not suggesting that we throw down the red carpet just because it is original, new and British.
In fact, I was the first to note in my tweet straight after the show:
While @lsrvillemusical is about putting the @ into the birth of e-mail, this production isn’t yet where the musical should be @.
— Mark Shenton (@ShentonStage) October 17, 2012
But I also added:
There’s still a lot to enjoy about @lsrvillemusical, & much to support; otherwise we’re doomed to endless LET IT BE’s & ROCK OF AGES.
— Mark Shenton (@ShentonStage) October 17, 2012
A well-known director I know asked me afterwards:
Is it time for an article about what a dozen men in their late fifties think they’re doing trying to review Loserville?
Actually, though a couple of the assembled throng last Wednesday fitted that profile, the first thing to be said is that this was far from the case: Henry Hitchings, for the Evening Standard, is in his late 30s; Quentin Letts for the Daily Mail is late 40s; and, for once, female critics outnumbered men amongst the first night critics: Libby Purves (early 60s, for The Times), Georgina Brown (50s, for the Mail on Sunday), Kate Bassett (40s, for the Independent on Sunday), Laura Barnett (who I’m guessing is late 20s/early 30s, for The Observer) and Julie Carpenter (mid 30s, for the Daily Express).
But responsiveness to it, or not, is not entirely dictated by age, perceived or otherwise, though various critics responded to the age issue directly. According to Kate Bassett, most damningly,
You’d have to have a mental age of about six to think this wasn’t dumbed-down, formulaic pap, drawing on Grease, Glee and High School Musical.
The online heading to Quentin Letts’s Daily Mail review trumpeted: “Oldies won’t want to hang out with Loserville’s noisy nerds”, and in the review itself, Letts predicted:
It may well appeal to teenagers and less discerning 20-somethings. It has a certain pulsating insistence. Between you and me, however, it’s pretty fair rot.
But if there’s critical confusion as to who it might appeal to, the show’s advertising campaign is also proving itself a hostage to (mis)fortune, amplifying instead of clarifying those confusions. As Laura Barnett puts it in The Observer,
Anyone who’s been in central London recently must have noticed the rash of posters for this new musical… Love Grease or Glee, the posters shout, and you can’t fail to love Loserville... But it also makes it difficult to view it as much more than a cynical attempt to cash in on the lucrative craze for high school-set shows with songs.”
In the FT, Ian Shuttleworth also cites the campaign, but feels it amplifies a confusion that results:
This feels like a show that is not aimed at any theatregoing constituency as such – hence the posters’ reference points from TV and movies.”
If the show’s promotional campaign is putting off people as much as it is attracting them, it’s probably failing. And I do think the show has a definite problem defining its own appeal and place in a crowded market place.
I’m also hearing negative comments from some of its potential market: I teach a weekly class at ArtsEd in west London to first year BA Musical Theatre students, and if anyone would ‘get’ it, I thought it would be them. They’re the Glee generation, after all; and they’re seeking careers in musicals themselves. But no, the most damning comments I’ve heard have come from them; the most damning of which is a suggestion that perhaps it’s meant for people younger than themselves (they’re roughly 18-21).
But the best blog I’ve read is one written by a fellow professional performer, Matthew Malthouse, whose previous West End shows have included Matilda, Mary Poppins, Anything Goes and Adventures in Motion Pictures’ production of Edward Sicssorhands. In his blog, he notes,
Every week I hear somebody say ‘there is nothing good in the West End”, ‘I am bored of juke box shows’ or ‘Why don’t new writers get a chance?’ Yet when the opportunity arises for something new, the Musical theatre industry responds to it with negativity.
This has been a bug bear of mine for a few years now, but this week it has been exacerbated with the opening of Loserville.
This is a new musical from British writers, composers and choreographer, featuring a young cast. Exactly the thing we have been crying out for. We should see this as an exciting thing, a new dawn but no, the reaction is negative. About 10 times this week, I have heard ‘I hear it is not very good’ from who I wonder? Somebody who was cut in the first round? Somebody who has heard second hand that it is bad? So before we know it, our own industry has circled like vultures and predicted the show’s demise.
He’s spot-on about the constant carping. No, he says, Loserville,
isn’t perfect, but it is a new fresh piece of theatre. With a young talented cast, and some of the most passionate dancing I have seen in years. I find that hard to criticise.
And like him, I think we ought to be celebrating what it brings to the table, not damning it out-of-hand.