Christian Czornyj’s video game-inspired musical is the first by Adam Lenson’s exciting new production company, which gives voice and space to artist-led musicals. While not everything lands, it’s great to see a fully fleshed new musical furthering the form, especially in the time-tight confines of Vault Festival.
Aiden is autistic and loves video games, his mum has cancer, his sibling reveals they’re non-binary; it packs a lot into an hour, and Czornyj shows how you can’t control life in the same way as a game. Anna-Jane Casey warmly plays the loveable mum, and Max Alexander-Taylor is a brilliant anchor as Aiden.
It goes all out on the video game motif: an incredible dot matrix wall made up of thousands of ping pong balls lights up to provide a world of brightly coloured, pixellated scenes by Libby Todd. Czornyj’s score has charming chiptune orchestrations and unusual textures, making it sound unlike any other musical. But too many songs serve the same purpose: a soliloquising nought-to-60 soul-search.
The audience makes plot choices, like playing a video game, but those choices come to naught when Aiden gets the chance to replay, and we start again with the other choices being made. With that audience participation, the exquisite pixel set, the insistence of the metaphor – stages of life, stages of grief, stages of a video game – asserting itself in every possible way in every moment, it feels as though the score itself, and what the score is trying to say, get swallowed by concept.
It doesn’t have space to explore its themes properly here. The show needs to render the characters in more than these 8-bit forms: it needs more time, more book and a tighter focus. Still, it’s no mean feat to get a brand new musical on stage, and this is only Stages’ first iteration.