Review: Then, Now & Next, Southwark Playhouse

Despite the presence of some absolute faves in the creatives, Then, Now & Next is a bit of a disappointment at Southwark Playhouse

“I need to shed light on this darkness within”

With this level of pedigree in its creative team, I really wanted to love Then, Now & Next. Writers Christopher J Orton and Jon Robyns and director Julie Atherton have been at the vanguard of the new British musical theatre scene for some time now but this musical – born when the writers were in the company of Spamalot and nurtured during the pandemic – proves a little more old-fashioned than one might expect and in need of further development.

At the centre of the piece is Alex who we follow for a decade – though in non-linear fashion – through two key relationships in her life, Stephen (then) and Peter (now). Piece by piece, we discover how she moved from one to the next and how she might not necessarily have fully moved on emotionally. That emotional journey is full of highs and lows, friends, lovers, and children, and the hope of some kind of personal growth in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

There’s something touching about the way the show talks about how grief can be like a wrecking ball, forever swinging through the life that has to continue. But that comes a little too late in the day when there has been quite a regressive approach to contemporary (heterosexual) relationships, or at least in the way that Alex perceives them throughout the show. There’s so little that is truly interesting about either man that it is hard to feel too invested here, we don’t really feel that sense of loss.

Atherton’s production does well to convey the shifting timelines with Adam King’s lighting helping immeasurably. And she cultivates strong vocal performances from her lead Alice Fearn and from Peter Hannah and Joaquin Pedro Valdes as her fellas. Tori Allen-Martin and Justin Brett multi-role energetically and often hilariously, but they don’t always feel as if they belong in the same production, such is the tonal difference.

More significantly, too many of the songs tend towards something of the bland. I don’t need to be able to hum along as I’m leaving, that notion of being memorable more a sign of repetition than quality, but there’s not quite enough sense of musical identity here to make the score come to life and make me want to listen to it again.

Running time: 2 ours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Pamela Raith
Then, Now & Next is booking at Southwark Playhouse until 29th July

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