It’s Only Life review at Union Theatre, London – ‘an intimate revue’
Comprising numbers from New York songwriter John Bucchino’s extensive back catalogue, It’s Only Life is less a jukebox musical than a mosaic of sophisticated, thematically linked songs. It’s an intimate show: the front row of the audience sits on beanbags while the unamplified cast is ably accompanied by Nick Barstow on piano, attentively supporting the singers with precision.
Bucchino is not particularly well-known in the UK, and though audiences here might not immediately warm to his East Coast sensibility – coyly referencing Stephen Sondheim, tending towards the self-analytical and a little prissy – the performers, mostly singing in their native British accents, put these songs across winningly.
Making his professional debut, Will Carey gives a standout performance in On My Bedside Table: his light, expressive tenor and natural charm are well deployed to convey this break-up song’s spikiness. The highly experienced Canadian Jennifer Harding seems especially at ease with the demanding vocal material, while Sammy Graham and Jordan Shaw shine in the more contemplative songs. In the Union Theatre’s tricky acoustic, Noel Sullivan’s belting upper register really soars in the louder numbers, above an occasionally unbalanced ensemble.
William Whelton’s witty choreography is at its best in the title track as the performers jostle on a packed subway train, but other more overwrought numbers might work better on a bigger stage.
In a white set is streaked with vivid colour, designer Justin Williams simultaneously evokes a New York apartment and overgrown kids’ playroom – it proves a versatile backdrop for the various onstage liaisons, each pinpointed by Clancy Flynn’s quickfire lighting.
There’s not much of a narrative thread here, but It’s Only Life is a tender and knowing meditation on modern life and love.