And The Beat Goes On

Glasgow based playwright Stef Smith's latest play, The Beat Goes On, ushers us into the lives of Lily and Peter, a couple of Sonny and Cher tribute artists who practice in their garage. The show opens with a song, along with renditions of some of Sonny and Cher's famous banter, before returning us to their real lives. Lily and Peter live by routine: macaroni cheese every night, then practicing a number, then dress rehearsals on Saturday. Things are shaken up for them by a new neighbour, Joan, who seems very keen to make friends.

The play deals with a depth of emotion so stark and painful that it would be very difficult to represent directly, but by allowing us to see the dramatic means required to cope with those feelings, we get a sense of how destructive those feelings must be on the inside. It’s a well-chosen technique.

This successful play is structured like a horror story; each new reveal bringing us closer to the dark heart of the characters’ lives, yet the focus is always on the emotional reality of Lily and Peter's lives. Surprisingly, the main way in which this is done is through the disconnect between the superficially happy Sonny and Cher songs, and the obvious misery of the characters. The play deals with a depth of emotion so stark and painful that it would be very difficult to represent directly, but by allowing us to see the dramatic means required to cope with those feelings, we get a sense of how destructive those feelings must be on the inside. It’s a well-chosen technique.

The central performances are very strong. Julie Brown's Lily is essentially a completely broken person and, while there isn't much movement in her character, she really draws you into her pain. Johnny McKnight is very engaging as the desperate Peter; he’s given rather more to do, and he really makes the most of it, drawing out all the aspects of his grief and love. Despite strong performances, however, the characterisation leaves a little to be desired. Lily and Peter have been completely eclipsed by their situation, which is understandable, but it would have been nice to see some complexity in their characters, even if it was a complexity which had since been swallowed by their sadness.

The character of Joan, the neighbour, is a bit of a weak link. Julie Wilson Nimmo's performance is highly entertaining, and her cheeriness a welcome break from the other two, but her style is rather less naturalistic than the others, and it has an alienating effect. As a character, she is rather under-utilised. Her motivation, when it is revealed, turns out to be one of the most interesting things in the play, and it is really only used as a plot device.

Director and designer Kenny Miller’s set is excellent, with the stage placed at a slight angle to the audience—an off-kilter approach that sets the tone for the whole design, hovering in a liminal space between naturalism and symbolism. The bleak numbered boxes at the back, and their contrast with the sparkles that turn up later, is a particularly nice touch.

On the whole, this is a highly atmospheric production which finds an original and effective way of dealing with a highly troubling topic.

Reviews by Grace Knight

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The Blurb

A little darkness never did anyone any harm

Peter and Lily have a secret. They love Sonny & Cher, their favourite celebrity couple of all time. With a string of hits in the 1960s and a successful American variety TV show in the 1970s, Sonny and Cher were mismatched, they were camp, they were good honest fun.

Decades later Peter and Lily are still listening to their records, still lip-syncing to their songs and practicing their comedy routines every evening. But beneath their obsession with sparkle and showmanship is a tragedy. And as dark truths start to pop their bubblegum act, it becomes clear not everything is quite as it seems…

A new play from Olivier award-winning playwright, Stef Smith, And The Beat Goes On is performed by Random Accomplice Artistic Directors, Julie Brown and Johnny McKnight and directed by Horsecross Arts’ Associate Director Kenny Miller in a brand new creative partnership.