Been So Long
Young Vic Theatre Summer 2009
At its core a thoroughly old-fashioned musical, Been So Long is made current and alive by its fresh milieu, clever writing and attractive and energetic performers.
Set in the bar-and-club scene of easy sex and easy betrayal, it finds two players discovering the unexpected experience of actually falling in love, being scared brainless, and almost blowing it.
(To jump ahead, playwright Che Walker leaves the ending deliberately unresolved, underlining the uncertainty by stopping the play in mid-sentence.)
And so we get the familiar dance of the couple attractively played by Naana Agyei-Ampadu and Arinze Kene as two people who don't know what is obvious to us - that they are each deeper than they realise themselves, and that they're made for each other - made new and emotionally resonant by a setting in black south London that we know to be littered with failed relationships and missed opportunities.
With their romance providing the emotional core to the play, much of the fun comes from the characters around them.
Cat Simmons plays the heroine's ever-randy friend with enough comic sexual fire to wilt any man at thirty paces, and her song I Want a Fella is one of the evening's high points.
Meanwhile, there's a nerdy little guy determined to avenge an imagined slight from the hero three years ago, and Harry Hepple plays him with such attractive bravado that you cheer him on even as you know his character's quest is doomed.
And Omar Lyefook provides another emotional anchor to the play as the bartender pining away for love of the heroine, who looks right through him; he opens and closes the show with a pair of strong blues numbers.
Actually, Arthur Darvill's music, mainly blues-based with an occasional funk beat, is never especially interesting, with the power of the songs coming from the alternately witty and evocative lyrics by Darvill and playwright-director Walker.
And even they are merely the raw material for the inventive and engaging performers.
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Review of Been So Long Theatre 2009