With acting instrumentalists, declarations of “Colour! Light!” and a lead called Bobby, I feared I was about to see a bad Sondheim knock-off. Not so, yet this new musical does manage to replicate some finer characteristics of the master himself – clever harmonies and a lyrical verisimilitude to everyday speech – while replacing deliberate, artistic distance with intimacy, heart and soul.
The story centres around Bobby, a young Scot in a rut. He wants to write, but finds himself in a dead-end call-centre job at RBS: hardly inspiring. We join him just as he has an out-of-body experience that will change his life forever. We find that his life had entered into a downward spiral in which he was dumped by his long-term sweetheart, Mandy, and lost his job. This all takes place across a series of fast-paced scenes in which Bobby is established as an underachieving but terminally nice guy. His friend Mags never stops believing in him, but he's unable to find another job or pursue his dream.
It's when he's left reeling at the revelation that Mandy is shacking up with his best mate, Sam, and that she's pregnant with his child that he runs headfirst into the street and is promptly mown down by a car - hence the out-of-body experience. An Angel tells him that, in order to be successful, he needs to abandon the path he's on (‘Towards the Sun’) and take the lonelier, lunar one. He does and, finally, it seems as though things are beginning to go Bobby's way when he begins to change, becoming cocky and getting angry when Mandy and Sam appear unfazed when he brings news of his publishing contract.
Like Bobby, we're tricked into first thinking it's a story about letting go of your trivial worries and harnessing your potential – taking the otherworldly path of isolation. Really, it's about controlling your emotions in order to tap into your creative resources.
The show is structurally sound, with a clever but clear presentation of a conflict and resolution. The humour is mild and everyday, the script very vernacular. Characterisation on all counts is superb and, although Ryan Paterson as the likeable Bobby really is the star, I did particularly enjoy the voices and portrayals of Kylie McMahon's Mag and Jocelyn Regina's Angel.
The show doesn't merit five stars simply for the over-similarity of Bobby's solos in terms of both material and direction – he needs something more to do than just stand or kneel; they're not especially big stand-and-sings, nor are they comical. The finale was also a little shambolic in its togetherness and a bit twee. But don't let that stop you from seeing this heart-warming, naturalistic musical that gives the little town of Greenock its chance to shine.