It’s very tempting to conclude your musical with a clearcut happy ending, where every loose end is neatly tied and all of your favourite characters ride off into the sunset. Who wouldn’t want their audience to leave clapping their hands and stamping their feet? Luckily, Rust rejects that notion. The addicts at the heart of this original story are fighting for their lives in every sense of the word. To cure them in the space of 60 minutes would be disrespectful to the struggles of real AA members all over the world.
The characters in Rust aren’t always pretty, but they’re real.
Rust is an original musical from the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society. With a book that’s based on Helena Fox’s real experiences in rehab, original songs about various mental illnesses from Director/Composer, Geraint Owen, and a cast of vulnerable patients, this show should be depressing as hell.
Instead, it is a raw and honest look at the 12 step programme, prioritising the lengthy recovery process over some instantaneous miracle cure. The characters in Rust aren’t always pretty, but they’re real. Through Evie, a new patient at the facility, we get to know each of these flawed individuals and see past their inner (and outer) demons. The first group therapy session ends with a song reminiscent of Rent’s AIDS support group medly, before transitioning into a haunting a capella rendition of the Serenity Prayer.
Alice Gilderdale is a sweet and hesitant Evie, portraying her discomfort with every awkward movement and invoking a fierce sense of protectiveness in those around her. Other notable performances include Lara Cosmetatos as the loving mother of the group, and Dominic Carrington as an ordinary, kind man driven to addiction who just wants to take back control of his life. The cast complement each other, drifting in and out of group scenes and soft harmonies, all the while convincing us to root for them despite their troubles. Or maybe, because of them.
The music is the underlying heartbeat of the show. From Lola’s rebellious “Meditate on that, bitch”, to the three-part harmony about rusting and being a “beautiful tragedy”, each song has its place and no words are wasted. This show has a very definite purpose and we’re not left to discern our own meaning from the performance. Vanessa, the psychiatrist, played by Paloma van Tol, speaks directly to the audience at regular intervals, urging us to take our inner dark thoughts seriously, reminding us that the best treatment is immediate treatment, and asking the question, “How long is long enough to change your life?”
There were teary moments, but the overall message was one of hope. At a time when the battle to bring mental health to the forefront of public discussion has yet to be won, this musical does as much as a single Fringe show can do to enhance the narrative. As the audience member behind me so eloquently put it, “Good for them.”