New British musicals are sadly thin on the ground, so just as I embraced Loserville last year, I also want to welcome Lift, which has a similar vitality and freshness. But I mustn’t overindulge it. This boldly coloured new concept musical by Craig Adams - who wrote the music and lyrics and leads the four-piece band from the keyboards - and Ian Watson, who wrote the book, has sparks of genuine pleasure, but is weighed down by a fragmented, over-earnest structure.
Ellie Kirk, George Maguire, Nikki Davis-Jones and Julie Atherton in Lift by Craig Adams and Ian Watson at Soho Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
The show has been heavily developed by Perfect Pitch, an organisation founded in 2006 to broker partnerships and showcase new work. It is now receiving Arts Council England funding, but isn’t yet pitch perfect. From a two-song demo to development work at Maidstone’s Hazlitt Theatre, a showcase at Trafalgar Studios and a concept album, it has now come up with a full production, but there’s still something provisional and not fully formed about it.
That may, of course, be intended, as the show reflects the transitory, provisional world of people trying but mostly failing to make honest connections with each other, whether via internet chatrooms or private lap dances in a strip club. These relationships are charted in a series of jagged, impressionistic vignettes, but none of them goes very deep.
Adams has, however, supplied plenty of punchy songs to illustrate them, and the show is niftily staged by director Steven Paling to glide effortlessly from scene to scene. It boasts a couple of knock-out performances from the wonderful Julie Atherton as a lesbian language teacher and Cynthia Erivo as the lap dancer she finds some momentary contact with.
Not everyone in the show has an equal opportunity to shine, but there’s also good work from Jonny Fines as a gay dancer, seeking relief in anonymous sex encounters in saunas, and George Maguire as a guitar-bearing busker.
It is nevertheless highly welcome that Soho Theatre is offering a platform for new musicals, and Adams is one of a growing band of terrific new songwriters for the theatre who - like Dougal Irvine, Stuart Matthew Price and Pippa Cleary - will go far.