"We're all hurting"
The traditional image of musical theatre as clap-happy tap-dancing extravaganzas is one that still persists, even whilst musicals about living with cancer play at the National Theatre. And it is something that clearly occupies writers Arnoud Breitbarth and Christian Czornyj, as their introduction in the programme for their new show Catch Me tackles this issue head on.
For Catch Me is a musical based around male suicide, the mental health struggles that lead people to such an act and the repercussions it has on those left behind. And pleasingly, Breitbarth and Czornyj show a strong understanding of the musical form and its storytelling potential. Here, songs tumble out of the characters, depicting their mental state, an organic extension of the story that really works, especially in the stronger first half.
Dean's fiancée, sister and brother-in-law, best friend and work colleague are still reeling from his decision to take his own life and as they gather on the eve of his burial, there's a brilliantly conceived sequence right up to the interval that brings together all the stilted awkwardness of funeral chit-chat and its amazing black humour. It also teases out the hidden secrets that they all possess, whose cumulative weight Dean found hard to bear.
Breitbarth and Czornyj's score for piano, cello and guitar, emotively led by Rebecca Grant's musical direction, has a real elegance to it, typified by the flowing vocal lines of the title number, knowingly reprised twice (and consequently I can still sing it back now!). And it is sung well by a strong company - Kathryn Pemberton's grieving fiancée Sarah, Jennifer Tilley's spiky sister Christine and in the comic perforamnce of the night - Matthew Munden's helplessly crass workmate Marc.
"He wasn't wearing his Tuesday tieI didn't know what was wrong, how could I?"
It's very much a show of two halves though as post-interval, Reuben Beau Davies' Dean emerges from the afterlife to provide his own perspective on things and though director Jill Patterson shifts the mood into a different place, the score could usefully maintain more of the unique free-form identity that some of Dean's musical contributions take to really play up the split between life and death. Nevertheless Catch Me marks an interesting addition to the school of new musical theatre writing, a refreshing counter-balance to the nostalgia-fest of, say, Half A Sixpence and Wind in the Willows.
Running time: 100 minutes (with interval)Booking until 3rd December