STOP, an original musical by Annabel Mutale Reed and Leo Munby, is opening next Tuesday at the Burton Taylor Studio. After the pair’s highly acclaimed collaboration on Anything Goes in Michealmas term, expectations were high and the play sold out within 48 hours. I went along to a preview to see if the expectations were met.
STOP is the story of a coincidental encounter between four people from completely different backgrounds at a bus stop in London. As the play unfolds, we begin to see the reality behind the façades that all four characters have carefully constructed to cope with the crushing weight of society’s expectations. The primary action is confined to the bus stop and alternates with vignettes revealing more about the characters at different points in their lives. The story is touching and throws light on some profound issues while never losing tempo or focus.
The cast is an ensemble of some of the brightest stars of the Oxford theatre scene and their performances are breathtaking. Kathy Peacock instantly makes you fall in love with Chloe, a seemingly bubbly psychology student with frightening levels of bottled-up self-hatred. Her character is so real and so raw that it’s as if Chloe just walked out of an Oxford library into the Burton Taylor studio.
In the first song “Asking questions”, which perfectly fits the tremendous talent Peacock has for musical comedy (she was formerly in Anything Goes), Chloe tries to start a conversation with Justin, who just happened to sit next to her, in an adorably awkward fashion. Justin is an aspiring actor with serious anxiety issues, which Jack Trzcinski portrays with great subtlety. The two are soon joined by Martha, a successful lawyer who is trying to cope with her husband’s depression.
Mutale Reed herself stars as Martha, proving that she is not only a gifted director but also a talented actor and singer. The last to join the group is personal trainer Lewis, played by Eoghan McNelis, who seems a shallow lad at first but later reveals hidden depths. McNelis’ performance is simply outstanding and his first song “Keeping Score” is absolutely hilarious. Leo Munby’s score is at times catchy, at times moving and always a perfect fit to Annabel Mutale Reed’s libretto.
STOP takes an intersectional approach to mental health, showing how, for instance, sexuality and race have an impact on how society treats a person with mental health challenges. Despite the serious themes, there are a catchy and up-beat songs in the first half and a lot of geeky humour. During the second half, the play becomes increasingly intense and emotionally absorbing. However, it never loses any of its freshness. It is well written and the small cast do an amazing job. If you are one of the lucky few to have a ticket then I promise you will have a memorable experience.