Review: Lift, Soho Theatre

“I keep telling myself if this is happening, it will happen in time”

A musical looking at “love, life and loss in a London lift”, Craig Adams and Ian Watson’s Lift is a thing to treasure in and of itself – a new British musical. Adams started writing the song cycle in 2005 and following the nurturing development of Perfect Pitch and its housing in the welcoming arms of the Soho Theatre – both necessarily ardent supporters of new musical theatre writing – it now makes its world premiere. The show looks at a cross-section of contemporary London life, taking its sample from the inhabitants of a lift at Covert Garden tube station as their lives intersect in the 54 seconds it takes to surface and then scatter to the wind on departing it.

The central conceit is that even though we may not make eye contact with the people next to us on tube journeys, our lives are more connected than we know and so we see the paths of these eight characters cross again in varied and unexpected ways. It’s a neat concept but one which falls a little short in the execution, coming across as too haphazard in its bringing together of such disparate elements – we long for more of a connection, both between the characters but also between the characters and the audience, the device of the lift just doesn’t feel strong enough. 

Part of the problem lies in the limited room for manoeuvre. With a company of 8 and a running time of 75 minutes, there’s precious little time to establish the depth of character needed for us to engage sufficiently with the travails of their lives. Occasionally, the pieces all fit together to wonderful effect: Julie Atherton’s jilted lesbian French teacher truly excels with her wrenching solo number ‘Lost in Translations’ and connects well with Cynthia Erivo’s thoughtful dancer, who might suggest a brighter future; Nikki Davis-Jones’ dowdy secretary sounds gorgeous in ‘That Rainy Day’; and there’s plenty of comedy too, not least in the online chat between two of the characters, neither of whom look quite like their profile pics and director Steven Paling wittily using two other actors to play out their digital dalliances.

Georgia Lowe’s design of fluorescent frames offers clever solutions to the staging of a show that moves from crowded lifts to online chatrooms, dance studios and rainy pavements. But the pick’n’mix approach to modern topics and contemporary London life mean that so much potential here feels unrealised, especially given the strength of the ensemble – George Maguire’s busker, Luke Kempner’s office boy and Jonny Fines’ gay dancer representing well for the boys. The show also feels better than the easy laughs it occasionally reaches for. Perhaps instead of looking at love, life and loss, the show might be better focusing on just one of these across the eight protagonists to bring that depth of character that the material hints at and that the company are more than capable of delivering. As such, Lift feels more like the promise of potential rather than the finished product but enjoyable all the same.

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 24th February

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