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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Beating the Blues (MTC) - 90 minutes without interval

A new, clever, funny, silly musical in development from the creative team behind Ladies in Black, for the most part Beating the Blues delights.

It spans the years 1979 to 2005 and concerns the relationship between three friends.

Ray (Simon Gleeson) and Emily (Alison Bell) are at university and have in common a love of music, in particular the crooners.

They like listening to records featuring their favourites and having endless discussions about their passion.

Ray’s best mate Charlie (Chris Ryan) – a financial analyst – is loud and boisterous. He could talk the leg off a chair.

His musical taste – if you can call it that – is a far cry from Ray and “Em’s”.

Nevertheless, one day Charlie attracts Em’s attention and next thing you know Ray is best man at their wedding.

As the happily married couple is about to head off on their honeymoon, Ray drops the news that he’s decided to teach English in Spain for the next couple of years.

Two turns into three and, before you know it, 20.

In that time, Ray has a series of girlfriends, but can’t find someone with whom to settle down.

Nevertheless, he is quite content with his lot, even if Em and Charlie don’t think so.

He keeps in touch with the pair by letter and phone.

Then the decidedly self-centred Charlie invites Ray to visit, but what confronts Ray when he does is hardly what he expected.

Charlie tells him he is going through a rough patch with Em and he asks Ray to help him out by talking with her while he (Charlie) goes away for a few days.

Ray reluctantly agrees, but more surprises are in store.

In fact, what ensues is a wild ride, to say the least, full of angst, confusion, missteps and misrepresentations.

There’s also the not so inconsequential matter concerning a neighbouring couple’s dog, named Hendricks.

As I indicated at the start, what a hoot!

Beating the Blues is a light hearted crowd pleaser with some cracking dialogue and witty musical compositions.

It is the work of writer and director Simon Phillips and fellow scribes Carolyn Burns and Tim Finn.

Even though this was the first read through in front of a live audience, it shows a great deal of promise.

With script in hand and only basic props, the musical still received plenty of positive audience reaction, as well it should have.

The actors are far from static, moving about the stage as they would in a fully-fledged production.

And what a talented trio they are too, with ear pleasing musical ability, giving voice to some smart, often rhyming lyrics and infectious tunes.

Leading from the front is Simon Gleeson, who is given the lion’s share of the heavy lifting and shines throughout.

He has a great sense of comic timing and a melodic singing voice.

Mind you, Allison Bell and Chris Ryan aren’t exactly slouches in the vocal department either.

Accompanying the actors is pianist and musical director Isaac Hayward.

I have only two slight reservations.

One is to do with the outcome of a major plot point concerning troubling jottings in a notebook.

The other is the ending, which to me fails to deal with another key ingredient, rather all but brushing it off.

I won’t go into further detail for I do not want to give too much away.

Notwithstanding these gripes, Beating the Blues is most enjoyable and entertaining.

At ninety minutes without interval, it is on at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until 6th February, 2021.


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