Review: The Phase, VAULT Festival

Full of young queer joy, it’s hard not to feel that shows like The Phase at VAULT Festival are the future of new British musical theatre writing

“I’m frustrated and I hate it”

I am frustrated, mainly because I couldn’t get to The Phase before the end of its run of shows at VAULT Festival and so I missed the chance to rave about it whilst you still had the chance to book yourself in. But such is the quality of Zoe Morris and Meg McGrady’s exuberant pop-punk musical that you have to hope and dream that this won’t be the last we hear of the show.

Set in 2014 at the point where gay marriage has just been legalised in the UK, bandmates and best pals Aziza, Rowan, Sage and Ava are thoroughly enthused and ready to share their queer identities with the world. Only trouble is, they go to an all-girl Catholic secondary school who don’t even let them finish their first song about two women in love before cracking down hard and trying to muzzle them.

As they’re all different shades of adolescent emotion, there’s no danger of them all taking this lying down. But what The Phase does it to pull the focus back just a little to show how this drama intersects with some of the realities of being an LGBTQ+ teenager (or ally). Coming out to parents, reassessing gender identities, suffocating anxiety attacks, dreams of first kisses, this proves a jam-packed hour.

It also proves a highly entertaining one too. Meg McGrady’s pop-punk-influenced score is outrageously tuneful from the off (shoutout to musical director Amy Hsu and the nattily dressed band), full of hummable hooks and a genuine confidence. And Morris’ lyrics, with additional lyrics by McGrady, are frequently really very funny indeed, sex ed talks and lovers’ tiffs never sounded so good.

It helps to have as good a cast as this delivering the show too. The frankly marvellous Jocasta Almgill slays as the self-confident Aziza, and Ashley Goh nails the vast vocal and emotional range of Rowan, their burgeoning relationship hugely engaging. Holly Ryan’s Sage and Gracie McGonigal’s Ava also take their moments to shine as the balance of the ensemble means there’s a real egalitarian feel across the company.

So yeah, Izzy Rabey’s production is a triumph, and a real trailblazer in showing how easy and important it is to be truly accessible with their range of support measures putting most other theatres and institutions to shame. This can’t be the last we hear of The Phase.

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
The Phase is booking at VAULT Festival until 12th March

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