I don’t, I must confess, listen to my copy of the Before After cast recording nearly as much as I should, especially given that I contributed several hundred pounds to its production budget. I did so a few years ago after I had re-mortgaged the house and found I still had some money left over, and as I have never been used to having money in the bank (you could say I’ve rediscovered the old me in these Covid days) I thought I’d find better uses for it. Besides the fundraiser for Before After, there were some production costs for a one-act play called Sid which I put some money towards, and a fundraiser for a teenage actor called Lucy-Mae Beacock, born with spina bifida, and later diagnosed with scoliosis (curvature of the spine). At the time, the best surgical option was some new-fangled technique or other in the United States. The long and the short of it is that the operation worked, Sid had a run at Above the Arts, the Arts Theatre’s upstairs studio space in the West End, and Before After got its cast recording. Not so much win-win as win-win-win.
Ben (Hadley Fraser) and Ami (Rosalie Craig) – as everyone who moves in London’s musical theatre circles knows, we’re talking about a real-life couple here, in case anyone watching was wondering why they weren’t two metres apart as per Covid-secure guidelines – are going through a rough patch in their relationship, not helped by the show’s critical incident, in which Ben was in a road traffic accident, resulting in a severe case of amnesia. Meeting Ami again some time after being discharged from hospital was (from an audience perspective, anyway) both amusing and awkward: he really doesn’t remember very much, even to the point of having to relearn socialising.
The narrative is largely expanded through exposition, so it’s plain clothes costumes throughout and nothing at all in the way of props. There’s no choreography to speak of either, so the show may come across to some as a play with songs rather than a musical. A few still images at the appropriate points are useful, and the show doesn’t feel unnecessarily complicated even as it jumps around between ‘before’ (the car crash, that is) and ‘after’. I suppose the show would work just as well if it were told in forward chronological order, but to do that would make the show just another one of those productions where everything is ticking along reasonably well between the characters before a car crash or other life-changing incident suddenly comes along and tears everybody’s lives apart. And we hardly need any more of that kind of story in 2020.
By ‘revealing’ the crash at the start of the show, it can then move quickly to an exploration of its consequences. There’s nothing new in a highly significant event leading to a richer and deeper appreciation of life, but the full gamut of human emotion expressed in ninety minutes nonetheless leaves the audience feeling hopeful. Some soaring melodies and tremendously profound lyrics come together to make this triumph over adversity love story a worthwhile and valuable experience.
Photo credit: Mark Senior
I caught the 2020 production of Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre very late in its run – I wasn’t going to go at all, originally (I mean, it’s not like I don’t know how it ends) but got talked into it by various people who (separately) thought it was worth seeing. The problem on the night was that the temperature had plunged in late September 2020 by about as much as the economy had in March and April of the same year. Added to this, the show, apparently in concert format (or so it has been marketed as such), ran at ninety minutes without an interval, so there wasn’t even a chance to stamp one’s feet and get some warmth going somehow.
So, I found myself sparing a thought for Jesus (Declan Bennett). It wasn’t because of my borderline puritanical Protestant upbringing (at one point many years ago, my family decided they would ban cling film from the house because “the pastor said so”. Demonic cling film!) Towards the end of the show, for obvious reasons, the Messiah is largely unclothed. In the cold autumnal air, it must have been challenging to say the least. (A strict interpretation of the crucifixion account would actually have Jesus on the cross completely nude, which I find rather ironic as it’s something on stage that the religious people would find unacceptable. But that’s the hypocrisy of religion for you.)
Social distancing is very much evident on stage, and everyone stays at what looked to me to be two metres or more from everyone else. Only occasionally does this affect proceedings – Mary Magdalene’s interactions with Christ, for instance, could have been more convincing: when I saw a previous version of the show back in 2016, they were indeed much more intimate. But that’s Rona Corona for you.
Although billed as a concert, it’s probably best described as ‘semi-staged’, with much of the production’s choreography retained. Then again, the production’s previous incarnation (if I may use that word) had the feeling of a rock concert in any event. The inventive use of props is still there, too, particularly when a group of Jewish clergymen make their opinions about Jesus known.
Declan Bennett’s Christ was (lovingly) lampooned in the 2016 run of ‘Jest End’, a parody song cycle making light of theatrical shows and events very much like ‘Forbidden Broadway’, for holding back and being a bit lacklustre, especially when contrasted alongside Tyrone Huntley’s powerhouse Judas Iscariot. The same accusation cannot be levelled at Bennett this time around, and his take on ‘Gethsemane’ was nothing short of remarkable.
As a fellow theatregoer put it, David Thaxton’s Pontius Pilate has a way of making counting (that is, the thirty-nine stripes, or lashes of the whip, that Jesus is said to have received) interesting. Shaq Taylor’s Herod was suitably flashy and extravagant in a number providing light relief from the intensity of Christ’s Passion. Nathan Amzi’s Annas was a delight every time he had a line or a verse to sing, and overall, this was a thoroughly decent if chilly night out.
Well, I have nothing to lose by indulging in networking, although I have no idea how to really do it, particularly at a time when face-to-face job fairs and meetings with recruiters are out of the question for the foreseeable future. But it’s one of those things I’ll never get good at unless I begin somewhere. So here goes.
I’d like to be back in work sooner rather than later – the mental/psychological impact is just as bad as the financial hit, frankly, so it is of concern to read about people who have been out of work for as long as eight months and counting. Then there’s an army of self-employed people, some of whom haven’t had a penny (not being eligible for any Government support whatsoever) in income since The Great Lockdown. In that regard, I should count my blessings, having been back in work recently, albeit just for a fortnight’s holiday cover to keep a construction site going.
And the phone has, occasionally, been ringing. Not nearly as much, of course, as it did the last time I was out of work for anything longer than a month. I was even cold-called a couple of times last week by recruitment consultants (funny how that happens when one is actually working – nobody’s ringing now that I’m sat at home again). I’ve perused the job boards so much I’ve practically run out of jobs to apply for. A pity I don’t drive and have zero motivation to learn to do so – on the day I got my redundancy notice in the summer, the two major companies with vacancies were Amazon and Ocado.
I have signed up to something I never thought I would: care in the community. Not having had much experience (meaning, none) in that field, it’s been an interesting ride so far, with an initial glut of training and some excellent support from a couple of ‘fieldcare supervisors’. But even that’s come to a stop for the time being. So now what? I’m going to pop out in a bit to the barbers. I passed by there on Saturday but there’s some sort of discount if I go during the week. And I need to pop into Tesco because, well, it’s cheaper than Sainsbury’s. Gotta look after the pennies when on Universal Credit.
Oh, and if there are any suitable job vacancies going, please let me know.
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London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.