Written by Janine Waters and composed by Simon Waters, Spinach defines itself as a sung play. Just 80 minutes long, its every word is sung to music though predominantly in recitative style, reflecting the ebb and flow of everyday speech, rather than through a set of songs as in a traditional musical. This Waters Edge production premiered in Manchester’s Royal Exchange Studio last year and has brought with it one of its original cast members as it starts up a run at the King’s Head Theatre Pub in Islington.
The show begins with Tom and Kate waking up tied together in the cellar of a house, unable to recollect how they got there and seemingly unaware of who the other person is as they slowly realise that they have been drugged. As they ask questions of each other and as flashes of memory come back to them, the pair start to piece together clues about what has happened to them and why, uncovering a tale which twists and turns in the quirkiest of manners.
The quality of the writing is at times exceptionally funny, blessed with a blunt Northern humour, and there are moments when one almost forgets that the cast are singing, especially in the witty repartee between Kate and Tom who find themselves drawn to each other, despite the situation, yet soon find out that there’s a reason why the chemistry between them is so good. Cassandra Compton’s investigative journalist is gorgeously sweet and wickedly funny and is very well-matched with Ben Gerrard’s pharmaceutical worker Tom who is also strong, though much more of an effort could be made to nerdify him so that he is closer to the socially inept, rubbish-with-the-girls character than the former Hollyoaks star that his handsome looks betray.
We also benefit from the intermittent appearance of Tom’s workmates, the cleanliness-obsessed Maureen – Claire Greenway in scene-stealing form – and the inscrutable Darren, played with a nice depth by Craig Whittaker. These two additionally support the solo piano accompaniment, to often hilarious effect in the case of Greenway’s sax playing, which adds another layer of interest to the music. Every so often, the score does break into something which is identifiably a song but to mixed effect as it often enforces an abrupt shift in tone.
This is also something which emerges in the culmination of Waters’ plotting, which is resolved incredibly speedily and a little too neatly, given the promise of the earlier scenes and it might have been interesting to explore the denouement a little more. As it is, we move swiftly to an epilogue which is almost a little too cloying but whose four-way counterpoint is probably the musical highlight of the show.
Spinach is certainly an original confection and in its unexpected combinations and appealingly talented cast, it has much to commend it. As with most vegetables, it won’t be to everyone’s tastes and the show could probably have done with an extra 10 minutes to let its conclusion play out in a less hurried manner. But conversely it never outstays its welcome and so makes a sharply comic impact.