Produced entirely during lockdown, Metta Theatre brings seven-part episodic musical Cells to the small screen, with all donations supporting the recovery of the Royal & Derngate Northampton, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.
The piece follows the reserved chemistry fresher JoJo (Lem Knights) and outgoing university lab technician Neil (Clive Rowe), two strangers contemplating the next chapters in their lives as their paths look set to cross.
P Burton-Morgan’s script lacks originality and only provides a surface-level insight into the pair’s social struggles in the thirty-minute run time. Some of the narrative’s happenings are contrived to the point of being completely unrealistic: the function of a soiled napkin sends the plot spinning into ridiculous territories.
Like singing one’s random thoughts throughout the day aloud, the lyrics are incoherent and elongated. They are overburdened with weak rhymes and rarely harmonise with the backing tracks.
The music from Ben Gladstone does not extend beyond basic guitar and piano riffs, preventing any of the songs from standing out.
Knights and Rowe both offer enthusiastic performances, embodying their characters’ conflicting emotions with confident, tireless singing and energised body language.
As Director of Photography, Jon Dickinson makes a curious decision to plunge the viewer head-first into several nauseating close-ups of the characters flossing, munching takeaway burgers and sitting on the toilet. There are also continuity errors between some shots.
While it’s great that an attempt has been made to bring Northern, working class voices to the forefront of musical theatre in the form of Sheffield-based protagonists, it’s a shame that this is limited to the odd bit of Yorkshire jargon and an obsession with unhealthy food. Less ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’, more ‘Everybody’s Talking About Gravy’.
Cells’ message is one of hope- it’s an encouraging, well-intentioned production, but lacks the building blocks of a well-rounded show. https://www.mettatheatre.co.uk/cells
Reviewer: Scot Cunningham
Reviewed: 26th April 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★