Last night I was invited to see Normality at The Other Palace’s studio space. This is a work in progress production of a new British musical, brought to life by a talented team in a fraction of the time you’d normally get to rehearse for a West End show.
It is always challenging to review something that is in development, as the focus tends to be on whether the show has the right ingredients rather than on the final fully baked product. And there are a lot of tasty treats within the comedy-filled Normality.
Some highlights for me include: an earnest love song on a train platform that is constantly interrupted by a lascivious drunk; an over-the-top cult funeral service; a disturbing initiation ceremony, and some very vivid recreations of rush hour tube journeys.
The weaknesses for me sit within the beginnings and endings. The opening scene is confusing, and as it is a flash-forward to something that happens towards the end of the show, isn’t necessarily required. It doesn’t add anything useful. The story doesn’t need this level of sign-posting and would be stronger and clearer if we started with Norman heading to his audition on a busy tube train.
Ditto the opening scene post interval between Norman and Celia confuses as we only realise that we have travelled forward a year in time in the following scene. That kind of post moment clarification is disorienting.
As for the ending, in its current incarnation it feels a tad weak and leaves too many loose ends. While the philosophical themes of the piece are hastily brought together, you do not get the satisfaction of feeling the overall plot elements are fully tied up. You are teased with a clean-cut ending, but this turns out to be a dream sequence, making the actual ending feel all the more rushed and incomplete.
However, there is a lot of good stuff in the meat of this show, and I can only commend all involved in bringing it to life so quickly in such an entertaining and creative way. Director Charlotte Peters is inventive in bringing the piece to life and uses a very simple and interactive set and prop approach to great effect.
The cast are brilliant. Dan Buckley is a sympathetic and believable Norman. Siobhan Athwal has a wonderful spiky energy as Celia (she is a character well worth developing even further). Steven Roberts steals hearts as Tris, particularly when he sings about meeting his dream man. Kathryn Akin’s Tara is a figure familiar to all of us who have worked in an office, and provides a wonderful warmth and humour. Claire Marlowe is convincingly evil as the true villain of the piece, Portia. While the interactions between Joseph Adelakun’s Joe and Ken Christiansen’s Bob bring to life the themes of moral bankruptcy and Faustian deals that sit at the heart of the show with great gusto. The remaining talented cast – Pippa Evans, Ewan Gillies and Jon Osbaldeston – all bring great energy and focus to the variety of smaller roles they play. I particularly enjoyed Posh Piers and Tony, and I felt we could have had a bit more of Norman’s Dad.
Sitting in the gallery I did sometimes struggle to hear the vocals clearly as the actors were not wearing mics and not all of the songs could be belted out (nor would you want them to be). However, I did hear the band very well, as they were up there with me. I understand from some comments from various audience members sat downstairs, that they sometimes felt the music from the band was too muted (probably for the benefit of those of us in the gallery). But these are simple sound issues that are easily corrected with the right use of tech.
Overall Normality was a fun and entertaining evening of theatre. Yes there is a need for further editing, particularly in terms of the overall story structure, but that is what you’d expect when seeing a work in progress, and audience members were encouraged to provide their feedback to help shape the future life of the show. Given the quality of the ingredients I saw last night, I’d definitely be interested in seeing how it evolves.