West End musicals nowadays tend to arrive tried and already tested elsewhere, unless they are by Andrew Lloyd Webber. I welcomed Loserville in my original review for The Stage when it premiered at Leeds back in June, though I cautioned then that “it’s not quite a ready-made West End hit, at least not yet”. And now that it has arrived there, less than four months later, I suspect that the transfer has been a bit rushed.
Aaron Sidwell (Michael Dork) and Eliza Hope Bennett (Holly Manson) in Loserville at the Garrick Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
In a show that is all about putting the @ into the birth of networked linked computer messaging (the precursor to e-mail), this production still isn’t where the musical should be @. It may now have a West End address, but it’s still not ready to address a West End audience. While there’s a welcome youthful vitality in the choreography of Nick Winston and the rock riffs of James Bourne’s score, some of the tonal uncertainties in the storytelling remain.
On the one hand, it is refreshingly staged with a comic pop-up book sensibility that suggests a tongue-in-cheek, High School Musical pastiche style; yet it keeps trying to harness the sincerity of a show like Spring Awakening’s darker tones of youthful insecurities, sexual awakenings and betrayals.
That said, there’s still a lot to enjoy in the big, bold mix of bracing movement and appealing modern melody. And it is performed with punch and attack by a delightful young cast, led by Aaron Sidwell as “geek in a garage” who changes the world with his discovery of enabling computers to interact, and Stewart Clarke, newly replacing Gareth Gates as the adversary who tries to claim credit for his discovery. Clarke’s real-life dad Paul Clarkson once won an Olivier Award for his West End debut in The Hired Man; Clarke now looks a ready made star in his first major role.
And while it’s terrific to see an original British musical on a West End stage, I wish it didn’t so self-consciously want to ape an American one. Nevertheless, it is a relief, in an era of tired jukebox shows like Let It Be that have arrived in the West End offering nothing more than the familiarity of what we already know, that this is new and different.