running until 7 January
All credit to the cast of 2 Become 1. This show is a fun, party piece that suits an animated crowd up for a good time. On this occasion, the night after most press attended, the cast were faced with technical issues, a delayed start and a small audience. Yet Swipe Right Theatre rose to the occasion, not letting the energy slide and throwing themselves into this tongue-in-cheek musical.
The quartet all inhabit their individual characters, like a Sex and the City-style gang: the heartbroken one (Jess, played by Natasha Granger); the flirt (Charlie, played by Eliza Hewitt-Jones); the comedic hopeless romantic (Amanda, played by Jessica Brady); and the wacky one (Molly, played by Kerrie Thomason). The personalities are a little one-dimensional, but it fits well with the girlband era.
All four performers maintain the high energy, yet there are times when the dialogue is rather stilted and the groan-worthy jokes not quite on the right side of the line. The script is peppered with references to the pop culture of the decade, best of all a running joke about the advice offered up by Cosmopolitan – every 90s girl’s bible, but an easy target for ridicule.
The show celebrates all things 90s, a decade when your #couplegoals were Brad and Jen, you video-taped Titanic every time it was on, you borrowed your friend’s Nokia to play Snake, and Noel’s House Party ruled Saturday night TV. Yet it’s the musical numbers that dominate the show, featuring too many of the biggest hits of the decade to count: ‘Say My Name’, ‘No Scrubs’, ‘C’est La Vie’, ‘All I Want For Christmas’, ‘Never Ever’, ‘Genie In A Bottle’, ‘Believe’… and of course the titular Spice Girls number. Five minutes barely go by before the quartet break into song again, often weaving the opening lyrics into the dialogue, as if creating a guessing game for the audience. It mirrors that feeling you get in a cheesy club when the DJ spins out another retro song – the spark of recognition, the delight and hilarity of rediscovering an old-school tune. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but for those of the right age this is a joyous trip down memory lane.
The vocals vary across the cast somewhat, but they give it their all and there are some tight harmonies. It is most successful when the songs are played for their comedic value, and Brady in particular pulls this off well as she addresses a member of the audience with her festive Mariah Carey hit. An a capella version of ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ with audience interaction is another high point. None of the cast are afraid to make themselves the butt of the joke, with impressive gurning from Thomason especially, and some truly out-there dance routines. Stuck with the main set from the King’s Head’s other Christmas show Pinocchio, the production makes use of minimal set and props in the form of boxes, which are put to inventive use – for example, as the four toilet cubicles that subsequently become the stage for a rendition of some TLC.
2 Become 1 works best when it embraces its unashamed, unpretentious sense of fun. There are some attempts to weave in a more reflective strand about the development of online dating and the sexual empowerment of women, while in between scenes voice-overs play of men discussing their dating habits and preferences. Yet these elements derail the pace and it’s hard to marry up the bubblegum pop and silliness of most of the show with these interludes.
The cast had to work incredibly hard on the night in question, and I’d like to return to this show on a busier night when I’m sure a more raucous vibe would inhabit the room. The show could benefit from some refinement, sharpening up the comedy to really satirise the era and draw out the comparison (or similarities) between then and now. If you’re looking for theatre to make you think, pause and reflect – well, this is not for you. But if you hate panto but love a cheesy tune, here’s your alternative this Christmas: grab your girls, get yourselves a drink and party like it’s 1999.
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