Thinking about death is all too common a pastime for me, and so hearing that there was a musical at the Burton Taylor Studio based on that very subject seemed like the perfect way to round out Hilary term. The new musical song cycle, written by music student Máth Roberts and performed by Grace Albery and Henry Waddon, promised to tackle an issue everyone must come to terms with at some point in their life: how to deal with endings, and to deal with what comes after.
The minimal set design, consisting only of clocks and picture frames hanging from the back wall, perfectly set the tone for the show from the second the audience entered – time is an eternally lingering presence, and as chapters in our lives come to a close, the clocks keep ticking on. This, combined with a repeated note from the piano, immediately held the audience spellbound as they entered. The piano note became the ticking of the clock on the wall, seamlessly transitioning into the first scene as the actors moved the clock hands to one. Throughout the show, the actors and music kept the momentum by never breaking for applause, with songs ending with the return of the ticking of the clock, and each scene was marked by a new time on the clock. This was one of the most effortlessly flowing performances I have ever seen done by students; the songs were interwoven with one another, yet each song was still clearly defined in its own right.
The music itself was beautiful, being suggestive of a 2019 rewrite of Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World. Waddon’s first and second songs, about hitchhiking and ‘drinking on Christmas Eve’ respectively, were particular highlights – a combination of expert choreography, clever lyrics, believable characters, and catchy hooks made for an incredibly engaging performance (if let down slightly by an inability to hear Waddon over the band). This is not to forget Albery, whose ability to switch between a hilarious portrayal of a five year old girl and a heart-wrenching portrayal of someone recalling her classmate’s death was nothing short of astounding. The pair played off each other exceptionally in their duets as well; they perfectly captured their unique characters across the piece, and both gave nuanced and touching performances.
Roberts’ writing and Josh Cottell’s orchestration combined to deliver a musical production that seems to be of too high a calibre to be limited to just an Oxford run. This piece is a wonderful first draft – though, admittedly, certain songs (such as the duet in which Waddon and Albery lament their lost child) could use more exposition in order to make the individual scenarios more clear to the audience. Nevertheless, with some minor tweaks, I could see this show having a very successful Fringe run. The team deserve sincere congratulations for their efforts, and I am excited to see what comes after for this gem.