Review: STAGES – a video game musical, VAULT Festival

STAGES – a video game musical is a bold new musical pushing boundaries at the VAULT Festival

“How do you do this alone?”

Well the answer is you don’t, especially when the question is about new musicals. STAGES – a video game musical arrives at the VAULTs as the first production from ALP, a company founded to develop and nurture artist-driven new British musicals with full acknowledgment that this is a show still on its journey, more than a work-in-progress but not yet the final product either.

Written by Christian Czornyj (Catch Me), STAGES draws inspiration from gaming to explore worlds of drama within the confines of its domestic context. At the heart of it lies neuro-diverse 16-year-old Aiden who loves video games, not least because they allow him a measure of control that he doesn’t have IRL. And as his mum has just been diagnosed with cancer, that’s a power he really wishes he possessed.

Conceptually, it is powerful and striking, aided immeasurably by the brilliance of the set design by Libby Todd and the giant LED screen. And the idea of all the players – the show also features Aiden’s father (an excellent Andrew Langtree) and non-binary sibling – competing within the game offers a range of thought-provoking moments.

The extent to which this video game motif dominates the show has its downsides too though. The chiptune character of Czornyj’s music is cleverly done but over the hour, flattens out any nuance in the score where it could usefully take us to other levels. And the audience interaction element doesn’t quite land – as cleverly worked as it is, assuming most people will only ever see the show once, the notion of alternative narratives is ultimately neither here nor there to the individual. 

But that’s not to deny the impressiveness of the ambition here. And in many ways, presenting such a bold vision is the best way to encourage strong(er) opinions about the piece which may well assist in the further development of STAGES. And kudos too to showing how representation can so easily be achieved with the casting of Max Alexander-Taylor as Aiden and Aitch Wylie as Ellen, both in strong voice and sterling form. 

Running time: 1 hour (without interval)
Photos: Nick Brittain
STAGES – a video game musical is booking at the VAULT Festival until 8th March

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