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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. And we take the opportunity to explore other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Is He Musical?
MP Theatricals  February-March 2022

Jude Taylor's one-hour play-with-music has had a small number of showcase performances in Wolverhampton, Leicester and London, with this online video clearly hoping to inspire further stagings.

It is a modestly charming little show, but it is not particularly well served by this recording, and any future will probably have to depend on further live showcases.

Taylor's story is of two young homosexual men in 1930s London, during what appears to have been a very brief window when gays, though outlawed, enjoyed the luxury of a little openness and acceptance, at least in London's artier culture.

Well-to-do country mouse Laurence (Barry O'Reilly) comes to London expressly to find the high gay life, and is taken under the wing of more experienced Wilfred (Teddy Hinde), who introduces him to the 'sisterhood' of a small gay bar.

In the course of a year Laurence flourishes, finding a boyfriend and a larger, more flamboyant gay club scene, while Wilfred stays behind and they drift apart. A police raid on the bigger gay club signals the end of that interlude of openness, and the two men face separate but more restricted futures.

The string of short scenes is punctuated by pleasant but unmemorable songs backed by an onstage trio of violin, viola and keyboards.

Even in the low-budget University of Wolverhampton production recorded here, there is an interesting story being told, though it is really more about the milieu and the historical moment than the two individuals, who are never given much reality beyond their function as representative types.

Director Matt Powell has encouraged both actors to play near-parody exaggerations of flamboyant gay behaviour.

That may well be deliberate, as it is believable that the characters revelling in unaccustomed freedom could entertain themselves with a bit of wild abandon. But that psychological process is not shown us, so the camping about seems too often just like bad acting.

Although both performers wear microphones, neither is always successful in projecting his singing over the not-especially-loud musicians, with Hinde particularly inaudible or unintelligible in all his songs. (At one point in this recording Hinde's mic briefly cuts out, and even his speaking voice is inaudible.)

Meanwhile, the stage lighting and the performers are not always in the same place, nor are the multiple cameras always pointed in the right direction.

With stronger direction, more clearly defined characterisations and a more successful evocation of time and place, Is He Musical? could have a future. But this recording finds it a little too early in the development process.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Is He Musical? 2022