Paper Hearts, Upstairs At The Gatehouse

Billed as the new British musical, Paper Hearts is on tour after rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016. The show is now at Upstairs At The Gatehouse, a quaint theatre unsurprisingly above a pub called the Gatehouse in Highgate village, until 20th May 2017. Set almost entirely in a book store, this musical flits between writer Atticus’ real life and the lives of the Russian characters in the novel he is writing.

There were a lot of things to enjoy about this new musical. The use of a small cast- most of which were also very talented band members- was impressive, with seamless role changes and transitions from real world to book world. The choreography is clever, and the way in which the instruments and music dovetailed into the play highlighted they were just as integral to the piece as the script. The set is sparse, as expected in such a space, but the simple props which were chosen were used to good effect. The music was strong from the very beginning and there were a few songs which really demonstrated the cast’s vocal skills perfectly. If you are a bit of a book worm, you will enjoy the many literary references and the ‘book-off.’ There really were lots of very good constituent parts.

It feels a little mean, therefore, to say that where Paper Hearts unfortunately comes up short are the characters themselves. They feel a little two dimensional. Everyone is either good or bad, and where they have done questionable things there is a very good reason for it. Their relationships feel too simple and quite frankly a little cliché.  I just about buy the ‘nerdy writer living life through his characters’ vibe, but cannot empathise with his pathos.  He feels like a bit of a man child. The tension with Lily felt forced and the ending all too easy. I didn’t believe the relationships in the real world. Interestingly, however, the book world appeared much more nuanced and all the characters a bit more flawed and, thus, human. They have agency and motivation, not all of which are good, which drive their actions. They have purpose.

Paper hearts is carried by the music, with a few clear stand outs (It’s You, Not Me, and That Makes A Good Marriage Last! spring immediately to mind). It is at its heart a feel good play, with soaring numbers and a beautiful message; it is greater than the sum of its parts and a good way to spend an evening. It is a little clichéd in places, but then name me a musical that isn’t.

Review by @loxsmith and @amychristel1 Photography by Tim Hall Photography

Perfectly Imperfect Women, Oval House Theatre

Perfectly Imperfect Women, Oval House Theatre

I am never quite sure what to expect when a show starts with the performer genuinely chatting with the audience.  In space as intimate as Oval Houses upstairs theatre the chattiness made the whole thing feel all the more personal. Danyah Miller’s biographical tale starts slow and the audience participation around what constitutes perfect (and conversely imperfect), is a great hook in. However, when the storytelling begins it is spellbinding. 

There is something rather Jackanory about it, and the sparse set allows you to concentrate on the story without many visual distractions. How Danyah flows with ease from narrator to different characters is truly a joy to watch and listen to. This is all aided by some clever set design, which is simple but enhances the storytelling.
The story at the heart of the show, at first seems quite simple but as she unpacks (sometimes quite literally), the varying aspects of it, the intricate and complex nature of the subject matter becomes apparent.
The theme 
“the often complex relationship between mothers and daughters and the challenge of discovering you may have more in common with your female ancestors than you care to admit,” through the lens of perfection, though familiar, does not succumb to clichés, nor does it ever feel stale. Danyah conjures stories within her story of five generations of women in her family’s Queendoms. All are as intimate as the space in which it is set. They are emotive, yet not saccharine or jarring. 

The familiarity of the stories is their strength. The archetypes are instantly recognisable and it is simultaneously her story, my story and our story, while still being uniquely their story. At its heart, it feels like her mothers’ herstory is all of ours, and her journey to resolution, our journey. 
The end, when it came was like the story, familiar, expected and for me, no great revelation. But this is definitely a case of the path taken to arrive at the end. Danyah took us on this journey by baring a shared but largely unspoken understanding of the collective herstories of our mothers and their mothers and their mothers. It was poignant, sad, funny, loving and uplifting in the short time and intimate space which Danyah explored it with us; while acknowledging real life understanding and ownership of the next 
part of the story could take a lifetime.