Tick, Tick… Boom!

As a fan of the high-energy musical ‘Rent’ I was quite excited to see some of Jonathan Larson’s other work. I’d heard some good things about Spotlites this Fringe, so I anticipated a working of “Tick, Tick… Boom!” that would introduce me to a show I didn’t know and keep me coming back for more. Not to be.

Whoever makes the design decisions may be entirely crushed by budget, but doing this play in a black box was a killer. They are a youth theatre group with ambition – there are lots of shows here under their banner, but I can’t help feeling that the result is that individual shows don’t get the attention they require.

The lead role, Jon, played by the striking Simon Lone, is a rock ‘n’ roll musical composer about to turn 30, still looking for that hit musical for the West End. He narrates and has the majority of the lines in the show, so it is unfortunate that he has a speech impediment. Occasionally we can’t understand what he says, but for most of the time it serves merely to distract. Perhaps that isn’t always a bad thing, as the narrative is sometimes disjointed and not entirely convincing. If you’re going to write in the present tense, stick to it. Or have a reason for only using it once. Or perhaps the blame lies with the direction for not doing anything with the change of writing style. The band were in a curtained off area to the side and seemed never to be loud enough to raise hairs, and further, the gain on the guitar merely served to create white noise in the rocky moments that Jonathan Larson writes so well for. Occasionally, too, the upstage moving lights were used for backlight. Unfortunately every time this happened they were aimed at the same place: my eyes. This was off-putting at best .

Amidst these issues the three performers put in a huge amount of effort and some of the set pieces of movement are well-executed, if a little unexpected. Simon Lone’s singing voice, which we hear a lot of throughout, holds up until he has to sing loud, when his tuning goes awry. That said, much of the quieter high notes are hit well, and this is usually much harder to execute. Sophie Cornell, who plays Jon’s girlfriend, is the strongest of the three vocally. One high note at the end of her ‘big number’ was decidedly flat: a pity, as she was consistent otherwise. James Cowden had a couple of good acting moments in an emotional scene towards the end of the show, but was poor vocally. There is three part harmony regularly, which he struggled with.

Essentially, I think that to pull off this work, your singers a have to be exceptional. With the best will in the world it isn’t possible for these guys to do it, and whoever is in charge of show selection for Spotlites should be more careful what they choose for their young people to perform.

Reviews by Louis Hartshorn

The Blurb

Spotlites @ Merchants Hall. 9th - 17th August. 20:30 (1h15)