‘Are you as nervous as I am?’ Peggy asks the audience before she sings her last song of the evening. Directed by Phoebe Barran, the play looks at the life of two strong women, Peggy and Janet as they find their ways in the world into the world using music, love and compassion.
The play essays the journey of two sisters- Peggy and her older sister, Janet who are forced apart by their abusive mother. The play traces the journey of the reconnection of the sisters which empowers them both in different ways.
As the play unfolds, the lead character, Peggy Starr comes to accept herself as she is. Her music articulates her freedom and her experience of using her music to come to terms with her life is quite powerful.
The musical subtly communicated the therapeutic superpower of music. In each piece, Peggy tries to confront the moving events of her life with songs. These songs give her a reason to understand these problems and cope with them.
In one of the strongest pieces of the evening, Katie Elin Salt sings “Love… what the Hell is it for?” shifting octaves and eventually going discordant. This song ends up giving Peggy, a lifeline to her career. It begs the question of what is art for an artist if not an expression or reflection of our own personal experiences.
Music is designed to follow the circumstances of the text. Larry, the lead musician for Bob, and eventually Peggy, for the most part, finds himself unable to affect the action or events of the musical. Moreover, we do not see the brilliant instrumentalist (Ruth Whybrow, Jemma Love, Rory Clark, Jess Martin, and Steve Steve Smith). In some parts, one felt that the attention could have shifted from Peggy Starr to perhaps some of these talented musicians who would be improvising their music live during the play.
Due to the distance between the instruments and the audience, the musical instrument on stage do not come alive in the composition. They always seem to complement action rather than leading it. Perhaps the trope of performance could have come off in the final song, inviting us to see the instrumentalist behind the wonderful original compositions by Josh Cottrell and arrangements by Dr. Mathew Malone. Maybe this would it have made it possible to explore what it means to create music collectively in the same environment?
The play does not show empathy for Bob or the mother’s character. They both end their relationship by physically assaulting Peggy. In those moments of tensions, one feels like their actions are unwarranted and their intentions are not as truthful as they should be. At the same time, since the narrative appears to revolve around Peggy, it doesn’t seem like Janet, who goes blind saving her sister, gets any consolation in the form of a character arc.
The stage is set in a thrust which is always interesting for portraying counter opinions. In this play, it could have been used to show the two sisters and their stories growing up. It is important to note that the strongest position in the thrust is not downstage, but centre stage, where the two diagonals intersect. Janet could have occupied this position more often than she did in the performance.
The staging choices are simple, and they seem to fall into a predictable pattern as the performance matures with time. Perhaps, the announcement before every song, a projector informing us about space could have broken their fixed pattern in the second half. Perhaps the realistic setup could have evolved into a more dreamland when Peggy sings in the parties of 60s and 70s. One was left asking these question while looking at the design decisions.
The music and the performances keep the experience alive and kicking. Go and watch this new musical, ‘Are you as nervous as I am?’ running in the Greenwich Theatre till October 23rd. https://greenwichtheatre.org.uk/events/are-you-as-nervous-as-i-am/
Reviewer: Akshay Raheja
Reviewed: 4th October 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★