Chat! The Internet Musical

Trapped by an inability to communicate properly in the real world, the six characters of Chat seek refuge and a place to unveil their deepest secrets in the anonymous world of an internet chat forum. Here they are free to become whatever the mood takes them – younger, older, sexier - within the safety of their own home. We meet the confused teenage boy, struggling to come out; the depressed single mum; a married couple who have had a breakdown in communication, yet unknowingly chat to each other online under different personas; and the bitter film star, desperate to know what people think of his latest project. All are monitored by the mischievous chatroom moderator who isn't adverse to spreading the odd rumour. With echoes of Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down, it is a real diverse bunch of characters yet the forum environment allows them to meet and interact without it ever becoming too implausible.The simple but effective set by Mike Lees superbly illustrates both the lonely outside world and the all-encompassing world of the internet that the characters crave with the entire action taking place on a giant apple mac. This, combined with the computer sound effects playing as the audience enter, immediately helps set the tone and atmosphere of the piece. The heart of the piece undoubtedly comes from the outstandingly talented pair of Diana Chrisman and Adam Barlow, playing the single mum and confused teenager respectively. Their characters have the biggest journeys but also, crucially, have such emotional depth within both their stories and performances. Chrisman is heartbreaking at one point in the story; her eyes brim with emotion during a powerful ballad and her sweet, caring nature endears her even further to the audience. Barlow starts the play a boy but finishes a man, and his journey of discovery is plain for all to see. He effortlessly pulls off both the poignancy of his situation and has a ball with the exuberant “If Only I Was Quite Camp”. The other talented four – Philippa Buxton, Leon Kay, Adam Pritchard and Sophia Behn – are all entertaining and vibrant performers, yet their characters are painted in rather more sweeping brushstrokes, although this is more due to the writing than their performances. Nevertheless, when the six sing together the sound is like sweet heaven, and the best voices I have heard on the Fringe so far this year. Chat is held together by some inspired direction and choreography from Phil Cross. It is playful and comic, yet also achieves real poignancy. In lesser hands a setting that requires the characters to spend most of the time at computers could run the risk of remaining rather static. Thankfully this is not the case here and Cross ensures that the whole piece remains fluid with just the right amount of movement to accompany the action. The piece also contains a plethora of visual gags: Facebook-style profile pictures caused much amusement whilst another image at the end of Friends Can't Help had the audience still chucking throughout the following scene.Musically, this show is top notch. The cast sing their hearts out and the songs come quick and fast, yet never seem repetitive or out of place. I left the venue wishing I could buy a cast recording and, two days later, I still have two of the songs stuck in my head. The beautiful sound is augmented by the fantastic band hidden at the back of the stage, with special mention to the flautist whose haunting melody contributed significantly to the pathos of Chrisman's ballad. The book and lyrics are consistently strong with many laugh-out-loud moments, and this all bodes well for Chat's future. However, it does feel a little underdeveloped. I would love to see a slightly longer version, where the other four characters can grow and develop more. Their stories are equally as interesting and it would be nice to see stronger conclusions to their journeys.This is a show that is so worthy of a future: the music is lush, the book hilarious at points, and I really cared about the characters. Post-festival, with a little more work and focus, it could really elevate to a different level, particularly with such beautiful music behind it. It's not perfect, but it gets pretty close and I have no hesitation in recommending people to drop everything and run to book tickets before it sells out. Hats off, Take Note.

Reviews by Damian Sandys

The Blurb

Virtual reality just got real in this new British musical comedy. Log on to a room full of hilarious characters and watch the web get tangled. With a quirky original score, get the message at www.chatthemusical.co.uk.