Advertised as a “fresh, funny and frank new musical”, writer and director Georgie Botham achieves just that in her original work How to Use a Washing Machine which premiered at the North Wall Arts Centre this week before it heads to Theatre 503, the Greater Manchester Fringe and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival later this summer.
The play follows siblings James and Cass as they return to their childhood home after receiving their first real dose of adult life. On the surface, these characters could not be more different. James, the self-proclaimed “boring success” bickers consistently throughout the play with the sister he describes as an “arty failure”. Packing up their childhood belongings exposes the similarities between the two, however, as they both lament unrealised dreams from their youth (becoming a ballet dancer for James and being a successful artist for Cass) and the struggles of adulthood.
Perhaps it was opening-night jitters but the beginning was not as sharp as it could have been; at one point it was unclear if Cass was voicing the mother and some of the joint lines were a little out of time. These are minor points though and the show quickly warmed up. Both Moulton as Cass and Winter as James proceeded to fulfil the requirements of the roles and they should take pride in their convincing performances. It is vital in a two-man musical consisting of dialogue, long monologues, solos and duets to have a cast that is strong and compelling both in terms of acting and singing. Moulton and Winter demonstrated superbly not only the characters’ individual depth but also the many layers involved in a sibling relationship. Beyond the basic level of verbal sparring and mocking (with Moulton singing at points in a babyish voice) a real sense of fun was established. Sharing anecdotes, prompted by grabbing various items from a box, and dancing around the stage together lifted the pace successfully and the piggyback ride conveyed a still-present sibling juvenility. Winter and Moulton also deserve credit for their tender moments in which the audience could palpably feel their intense care for one another. Winter as James in particular demonstrated this through an earnest soliloquy in which the character reveals his “dullness” is to act as a steadying force for the unstable Cass.
The highlight of the show has to be the number after which the show is named. Cass’s first solo song of ‘How Do You Use a Washing Machine?’ is fast-paced and chaotic just like the character. The desperation of being incapable of getting to grips with this ‘adult thing’ is certainly relatable to students on the cusp of entering the real adult world. Moulton injected the right energy into this song as the spunky and angsty Cass by interacting with the audience in a despairing bid to find out how to sort colours in the wash. The decision to stage the musical in thrust was particularly fitting for this number and the use of a bubble machine was the cherry on the cake of an entertaining performance, with Cass running away from the soap bubbles of responsibility.
It is often hard to strike the right tone in student comedy but Botham’s script and score are full of witticisms that are genuinely amusing and so the play maintains a light-hearted energy throughout. Lines such as “Banker – reason why it rhymes with…” and the revelation that James and Cass’s dad is on Tinder provoked laughs from an amused audience. The actors are accompanied by a talented string quartet and it suffices to say that the score created by Joe Winter enhances the changing moods perfectly. A memorable instance comes in the transition between the overwhelming madness of Cass’s ‘How Do You Use a Washing Machine?’ song and James’s entrance; the fast-paced music slows and has a distinctly classical tone to fit with the “dull” character he has become.
Although the plot was at times predictable and the anxieties of both characters exposed later in the play could have done with slightly more development, Botham’s musical is an enjoyable piece of theatre that I would recommend to anyone looking to spend a light-hearted hour. I am confident that this will go down well at the Edinburgh Fringe and I wish SLAM Theatre’s production the best with their future runs.