They’re Playing Our Song @ Menier Chocolate Factory, London

cast list
Alistair McGowan
Connie Fisher

directed by
Fiona Laird
The Menier Chocolate Factory has really gone to town on the 1970s aesthetic for their latest musical production, a Neil Simon revival. There are kaftans, ponchos, crocheted dresses, leg warmers, hideous orange and brown curtains, not to mention some truly alarming wigs. I think I even saw a bottle of Advocaat in there somewhere.

Each costume change brings with it a wave of laughter, which is fortunate as, in the first half particularly, many of Simons one-liners are starting to show their age. There are some awkward empty moments where one suspects a larger laugh was supposed to be forthcoming and there are times where the performers practically have to wave placards saying joke imminent to ensure it doesnt pass us by.

Despite this, there is something about the show that slowly grows on you, a cheesy charm. Premiered in 1979, Our Song has music and lyrics by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager respectively, and it is on this pair the two leads are based. Alistair McGowan plays Vernon Gersch, a songwriter with a couple of Grammies under his belt, while Connie Fisher, taking on her first major stage role since playing Maria in The Sound Of Music (a part landed, as doubtlessly everyone knows, via Lloyd-Webbers televised talent search How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?), plays Sonia Walsk, a lyricist, sporting some serious flick-ups along with a wardrobe full of second hand dresses. Though Sonias forthrightness and lack of punctuality initially drive Vernon mad, when she suggests they go on a non-date together he agrees and he soon finds himself falling for her. But Sonia has a (unseen) clingy ex-boyfriend, Leon, who calls her at 3am and whom she still, much to Vernons displeasure, feels attached to and responsible for. The couples relationship has barely begun when it starts to fall apart.

The show is essentially a two hander, though it features a nice device where the characters are each shadowed by a trio of performers who represent their inner voices, their conscience and creativity. The inclusion of these boys and girls allows for a chorus element, a more layered musical style where needed, and also injects some additional humour, as they always appear clad in the same hideous get-up as Sonia and Vernon.

Fisher has a strong versatile voice and feels just as home here in the relatively small Menier as at the cavernous Palladium (if not more so) and McGowan has considerable charm as a performer, an amiable presence, and handles the musical numbers competently. They both cope well with Simons rapid New York banter and have a nice rapport but there is little in the way of chemistry between them. The show says little about what it means to live with the person you work with or work with the person you love, the compromises and the problems that such a scenario creates, and the songs too, while pleasant enough, are pretty forgettable.

Fiona Lairds small scale production is endearing in its own way, performed on a revolving stage decked out as a vinyl record, with glitter ball lighting. It pitches itself as a kitsch fest and this is exactly what it delivers. But while patchily entertaining, it struggles to disguise its slightness, the couples troubles are fairly thin, the dramatic impact minimal and the jokes fairly flat, and the whole thing drifts away once leaving the theatre like a mildly diverting dream.

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