Review: Songs from the Playground, Union Theatre

“Here’s a little thing I wrote about life”

A little Sunday night treat at the Union was Songs from the Playground, a showcase of new musical theatre writer John Kristian, giving us snippets from a number of his works-in-progress and featuring a cast of performers that pleasingly contained few of the usual suspects. Don’t get me wrong, I love Julie Atherton, I truly do, but it is nice to see someone else get to do the comedy song for once 😉 And there’s a big one here in the form of ‘The Big O’ with which Catherine Digges had great, knee-trembling fun.

That song came from his revue show Hidden Talents but most of the first act focused on his first musical Vow and an adaptation of the well-known film The Holiday (although it was new to me…). Presented without introduction, it was a solid rather than a spectacular beginning to the evening, a constant flow of context-free new material is hard to fully process though Dan Looney and Bronté Barbé’s awkward teenage party encounter ‘Kiss Me’ was very well done as was Looney’s rapid rattle through ’23 Vows’.

Tasters of an unofficial version of The Notebook and an official collaboration with Dan Looney on a musical take on Home Alone ended the show on a melodic if slightly bizarre note (Joel Harper-Jackson is far too distractingly attractive to take on the role of Kevin). But the undoubted highlight was definitely Kristian’s forthcoming show The Homefront, a verbatim piece based on genuine homeless experiences and unique in both its street-influenced sound and acutely observed emotion (Pete Gallagher’s deft direction really bringing this excerpt to life.

And this extra attention to detail is what made the night the success it was. Too often showcases just feature singers delivering their moments in the spotlight with the occasional wayward riff (not that these weren’t present here in some cases) . But Songs from the Playground worked in fully staged numbers from a number of shows – Aine Curren on choreography duties – giving a real sense of how any of these might develop into fully fledged productions.

Kristian clearly knows his way around a decent melody, a number of the tunes threatening earworm territory but though he obviously has a predilection for a cinematic adaptation or three, it is the strikingly original work The Homefront that lingers most in the mind. Definitely one to watch out for.

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