Next Thing You Know presented at The Garden Theatre
Updated: Nov 10, 2020
What is it?
A musical, performed outside in the courtyard of the Eagle bar in Vauxhall, about four New York artists picking up the pieces of their disappointing twenties. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it is, treading lightly on musicals like Rent and Ordinary Days. Commendably, the production has been cast entirely from 2020 graduates whose entrance into the industry was aborted by Covid.
What is it about?
Waverley is a wannabe actor who isn’t sure she wants to be an actor anymore. Her boyfriend, Darren, is more interested in the plays he spends all night writing. Her best friend Lisa is growing tired of waiting for ‘the one’ who never comes. Darren’s workmate, Luke, is a raging ‘lad’, whose casual sexism forms the crutch of far too many of the jokes and is left dangerously unchallenged by the narrative.
How did it make me feel?
Next Thing You Know, much like most people’s twenties, delivers exactly what you’d expect, slightly less well than you’d hope. It’s chipper, wistful, and features a song about being hungover. It’s also a perfect catch for the Eagle’s makeshift theatre; it doesn’t require much in the way of movement, and the Eagle’s outdoor bar is easily repurposed as a New York dive.
However, the production could do with a bit more pluck to make it really sing. The relationships are thinly sketched – it is hard to believe Waverley and Darren had ever had a romantic relationship, let alone one basing the narrative arc of a musical on. The Rent-old formula of artists struggling in New York wasn’t played against enough to really delineate this as unique. There’s also some slightly hackneyed staging.
All the same, the lyrics are witty, the music is anodyne but pleasing, and anyone on the brink of a new life stage will find enough to identify with. There’s a charming scene between Luke and Darren as they talk through their computers’ automated voice software, cannily suggesting the alienation of a generation both empowered and fractured by technology. The show is endearingly updated for the current moment, complete with temperature gun and jokes about face masks.
Gratingly, this modernisation is somewhat uneven. ‘Things have changed since the Eisenhower administration’, Luke drawls, but this is apparently not true in the show’s gender politics. Women are ‘pinned’, racially stereotyped (‘There was Annika, I used paprika, she barely used a fork’ complains Luke of one of his past lovers), and fall stupidly for the tricks of a shallow conman. It’s not a problem for a character to be misogynistic, but this becomes hard to swallow if the production lets it pass unquestioned. Even more eye-rollingly, there’s an excruciating moment when two men have an argument about a woman whilst she hovers awkwardly – and silently - in the background.
A more self-aware production would have got away with Luke’s casual misogyny and the musical’s wearying clichés. In its favour, the lyrics have wit, the music is pretty and, with a second lockdown impending, now is probably the right time for an upbeat ditty about letting go of youthful dreams.
Next Thing You Know presented at The Garden Theatre until the 31st October 2020.
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(Reviewer has opted not to star this production)