In his programme notes, Mike Dyer, the composer and author of this show, says he caught the musical theatre bug while playing the narrator in Blood Brothers. But anyone searching for the next great British musical on a par with Willy Russell’s classic needn’t waste their time stopping off at the St James Theatre for this chaotic, derivative, unholy mess of a show.
The story concerns Jimmy (David Albury), a photojournalist following in the footsteps of his father, who died on the day he was born. Jimmy wants to use his craft to highlight suffering in developing countries rather than get sucked into the world of the paparazzi, earning a quick buck for snapping z-list celebrities falling out of nightclubs.
But he comes under the spell of sleazy promoter Miles Mason (Michael Greco) via former schoolfriend Pandora (Niamh Perry), who has grown up to become a drug-addled rock singer. It’s all clumsily trying to be allegorical about the camera stealing the soul and you’ll guess from his first entrance who Miles really is.
There’s also a bolted on subplot involving Jimmy’s love for Tara (Emmerdale’s Natalie Anderson) that goes nowhere. She’s homeless, by the way — the wearisome worthiness just never lets up.
You feel for the cast, you really do. Every character is drawn in such broad, unsubtle strokes. They must have sold their souls to someone to appear in this fiasco. Michael Greco at least has some fun hamming it up, but Natalie Anderson’s character is so underdeveloped as to be almost invisible. David Albury confuses intense with just plain wooden and while he sings well enough, he’s burdened with some toe-curlingly bad dialogue:
Tara: “I hate this London rain”
Jimmy: “The rain’s beautiful. It gives life.”
There’s also a song lyric (delivered with more po-faced seriousness) about the unborn Jimmy “staring out through my mother’s belly button”. Although given where babies actually come from, it could have been a lot worse, I suppose.
There’s only one memorable song in the whole thing and that’s Niamh Perry’s performance of the haunting My Last Goodbye, which seems to have gatecrashed from another show. But three minutes out of two hours of your life doesn’t justify the ticket price.
It says a lot that I got distracted studying the historic photographs used as video projections. If the first act is a clichéd mess, the second contains moments of such bizarre kitsch as to almost tip the whole thing over into so-bad-it’s-good territory as Jimmy is assigned by Miles to photograph the Seven Deadly Sins. For reasons that we needn’t go into, he ends up in a coma. He was the lucky one.
Exposure: the Musical is at St James Theatre until 27 August