There’s a clever bit of word-play with the title of new musical Old Goat Song which will be readily apparent for those with a knowledge of some Ancient Greek, though the rest of us may need a helping hand. The word tragedy roughly translates as ‘goat song’ and the central character of this show, a widower in his 70s, refers to himself as the ‘old goat’, though the overall tone of the musical is less tragic than wistfully nostalgic.
Bill Fast’s life since his wife died has not been the happiest and he is now seriously unwell. Living with his abrasive sister Cora who is enforcing a low-cholesterol diet, he seeks refuge in a local diner and soon becomes besotted with Cara, a 17 year old waitress there. As he edges ever closer to death, his relationship with her becomes increasingly entangled as the gifts he gives her become ever more grand and the feelings that start to move to an uncomfortable place.
Uncomfortable because though Bill initially views Cara as the daughter that he was never able to have in his marriage, his emotions deepen into something creepier as the presents become more lavish. Jules Tasca’s book further complicates the picture by making this a memory play and so the spirit of Bill’s wife Danielle frequently makes appearances to urge him to realise what these feelings are. And in a news climate filled with ongoing horrific revelations of systemic sexual abuse, it just felt awkward – freed from this context, it may not seem quite so dodgy.
Matthew Gould’s production wisely doesn’t linger too much on any one aspect of the story, skipping from present to past, reflective memory to pained reality, suggesting the vain attempts of a man who put his mental affairs in order before he dies, and Matthew Hendrickson’s grizzled performance reflects a similar ambiguity which keeps the sentimentality dialled down low. David Reiser’s music is always listenable, especially as played by MD Katy Lipson, but sometimes struggles against the book rather than working with it.
There’s too much enforced light-heartedness, occasionally accompanied by misjudged choreography, which seems determined to direct the mood of the piece away from the events unfolding onstage. It’s more of a shame as there are moments of considerable grace as the various timelines bleed into each other, Bill simultaneously interacting with both Leigh Lothian’s Cara and Pippa Winslow’s Danielle evoking a real sense of the life lived and the lessons learned (or not, as the case may be) coming through and elevating the material into something almost elegiac.