The problem with being ‘in’ someone else’s eyes is that you can never be quite sure if what they’re seeing is really happening: there’s always the possibility that it’s all imagined, untrue, made-up. As director Lucy Fielding tells me, there’s no knowing where reality begins and ends in In Her Eyes, the dark musical about an isolated teenage girl whose life is turned upside down.
The whole story is told through the eyes of a narrator (Ellen Timothy), who both sings and speaks the story of Freddie (Rachel Coll), the play’s protagonist. Acting as an extension of the audience, we watch the play through her eyes, at times unsure what to believe. The musical’s concern with teenage gossip blurs the line between truth and illusion – as rumour spreads about the new boy in Freddie’s life, the music itself becomes distorted and disturbed, until the original tune is lost and the message has been transformed into something else. Like in a game of Chinese whispers, what we end up with, in both the music and the story, may be a distortion of the truth.
The all-female aesthetic of the musical is striking, and emphasises the centrality of Freddie’s relationship with her mother and with the other girls at school. Though the story is mediated by the narrator, the emotional proximity and honesty of the characters’ feelings is undoubtedly one of its strengths: there are no jazz hands to be seen, but there is an intimacy set up between the audience and the seven-person cast that is refreshing for a musical. In a testament to the musical’s emotional depth, in one scene Freddie’s mother (the convincingly maternal Heather Young) managed to bring tears to the eyes of one of the cast. The minimalistic staging at the Burton Taylor Studio will add to the sense of closeness, with the audience positioned on three sides of a thrust stage.
This sense of closeness is offset, however, by a perpetual air of mystery. Freddie’s new boyfriend Jamie is never seen, for instance, and the musical ends quietly, leaving suspended unresolved and unanswered questions. The music keeps us guessing as well: Toby Huelin, the third-year student who wrote In Her Eyes during Trinity last year, described it as “very difficult” – mainly operatic and classical, but with some catchy tunes more typical of musical theatre. Like the rumours in the story, the music refuses to settle into one genre, instead ever morphing into something else. For Huelin it’s “musical theatre subverted”. With a talented cast and the energy provided by a three piece band, In Her Eyes promises to provide emotional depth along with some of the exhilaration of musical theatre.