When is a musical not a musical? When it’s a sung play, of course. Leafing through the advertising material you’d be forgiven for expecting Spinach to be an evening of bleak pretension. Bold declarations that it is neither a musical nor an opera are followed by a synopsis referring to the characters’ ‘terrifying fate’. Abduction, memory loss and pharmaceutical conspiracies are certainly heavy themes to be dealing with – but Spinach kept us laughing hard for eighty minutes with the darkest of dark humour and a whole lot of Northern charm.
One aspect that kept the mood light was the score – there’s much humour to be had in setting everyday speech patterns to music. London Road this ain’t, but instead the musical style was more akin to The Umberellas of Cherbourg, in which every inane ‘Bonjour, Maman’ has a sly wink due to its musical self-awareness. The music in Spinach is diverse to a fault, for example resorting to the musical theatre trick of aping a tango when discussing South Americans. I found myself appreciating the recognisable ‘numbers’ not just for their wit, but also because they broke up the sung dialogue.
The small cast of four coped extremely well with the sung-through score/script, with Claire Greenway particularly shining as clean-freak Maureen. Greenway’s smaller roles, from middle-class hobo-dodger to ethereal saxophonist, allowed her to win the audience over with versatility and a wry smile. The star-cast leads Cassandra Compton (massive West End credits… and X Factor) and Ben Gerrard (Hollyoaks) barely left the stage, doing a remarkable job of sustaining their energy over the course of the show. Compton’s voice was arrestingly beautiful when she was given the chance to show off, but wasn’t afraid to growl a vicious low range when the occasion warranted. Gerrard’s singing was a little rougher, but complemented his natural wholesomeness as the reluctant hero. Craig Whittaker as Darren burst into life later on in the piece, treading the uneasy line between the show’s darker and lighter sides.
‘Spinach is not a musical.’ But it is through-sung and star-cast, cheesily choreographed (I can confirm jazz hands) and is essentially a romantic comedy. Its intriguing fragmentary structure as the pair struggle to remember their story sets Spinach apart from some less sophisticated shows. However, I would implore the creators to declare it ‘a musical’. It’s a good thing! And Spinach happens to be a particularly interesting one.