Loserville is a new musical with a book, music and lyrics written by Elliot Davis and James Bourne. It received a West End transfer to The Garrick Theatre following a run at The West Yorkshire Playhouse. The production, which has divided critics, tells a fairly simple underdog boy-meets-girl love story. The year is 1971 and computer geek Michael Dork (Aaron Sidwell) is racing to be the first to send a message electronically from one computer to another. The only thing more exciting to him than sending the first email is new girl Holly, played to perfection by Eliza Hope Bennett.
While some critics have chosen to lambast the show’s plot as unoriginal (love stories aren’t exactly rare in the West End), it compensates for this in spades in terms of imaginative set design by Francis O’Connor and direction by Steven Dexter. The extensive use of giant cardboard props (everything from telephones to doors) could have looked cheap and tacky but somehow they work in the wonderfully self-aware world of Loserville where anything smaller or less ostentatious would just have looked out of place. Everything is bright and big, taken to a beautiful, gratuitous excess. I can see how all of this could quite easily be a bit too much for some spectators – subtle and restrained are not at all on the menu – but the fact that it will not have universal appeal is not, in my view, something for which the production needs to apologise.
The stage struggles to contain the passion of the cast and Nick Winston’s explosive choreography works well. Stewart Clarke shines as detestable antagonist Eddie Arch, as does Richard Lowe in the role of best friend and aspiring writer Lucas Lloyd. Unfortunately I did feel that Sidwell sometimes struggled vocally in his lead role as Michael but he made up for this with a strong acting performance. He could have been aided by an adjustment to the sound levels – the band, although good, were certainly too loud at points, resulting in the actors having to almost shout to be heard. This was not due to any lack of power in their vocal, it was simply a matter of balance which, for me, wasn’t quite correct.
Musically, the show is slightly repetitive and the score is reminiscent of Bourne’s other musical projects, most notably the band Busted. In spite of this, the numbers are frustratingly addictive and I’ve caught myself humming them several times since seeing the show. Whilst they may not have appealed to everyone that walked through the doors of the theatre, there is no denying that they were well-suited to the show.
In general, then, the show’s faults were only ever small ones, ones which would have eventually been eliminated with a longer run and the chance to polish away the rough edges. Loserville was originally due to close on March 2nd and I find it incredibly sad that the show has been forced to shut its doors early. Opening a brand new musical in a difficult economic climate with a young, inexperienced cast was a risk and it is through no fault of the show or cast that this risk has not paid off. I am certain that we have not seen the last of these talented young actors or of this production.
7/10 – Loserville is bursting at the seams with energy. It isn’t perfect yet defies its audiences not to be won over by its heart, charm and enthusiasm. It does not deserve to have closed early.
Loserville closed at The Garrick Theatre, London on 5th January 2013.