What do you call a musical that isn’t really a musical but sort of is a musical? And how do you explain it to people who might want to see the not-quite-a-play but not-quite-a-musical? Here is my attempt:
Epic Love and Pop Songs is confusing; think Marmite but for your cultural tastebuds. The story explores the complex dynamics of teenage friendship; needing to find your tribe, wanting to belong and wanting to stick out at the same time, the politics of the secondary school hierarchy. It also looks at love, loss and tragedy – Doll and Ted are teenage friends, bound together by hurt and need, and their friendship will eventually be the making or the end of them both.
From the off, the stage is cluttered and it’s not clear why, the basic props sort of work but I didn’t understand the choices, and the central characters feel familiar because they rely on a few teenage cliches – Doll (Georgie Halford) is Vicky Pollard meets Lauren Cooper; her catchphrase could be “Yeah but no but am I bovvered?” and I was never sure whether I liked her or not, or whether I was meant to.
But the story is unique, Roel Fox as Doll’s adorable side-kick Ted is flawless and moves effortlessly in and out of minor character roles, at one point delivering a gut-wrenching monologue that had me quietly weeping into my tin of rosé. I say quietly because I’m pretty sure everyone in the Studio was holding their breath, all captivated by the performance. In her role as Doll, Halford is punchy and bold, delivering a powerful acapella vocal performance and capturing the full range of emotions of an angry teenage girl. While it’s clearly dysfunctional, Doll and Ted’s friendship feels heartfelt and genuine.
The musical numbers are enjoyable, and Fox is clearly an accomplished musician. The performances deserved more pizzazz and I wonder what might have been possible with a slightly bigger space and budget. Overall, I enjoyed Epic Love and Pop Songs as a play, but I’d be interested to see it in a different space. The strong performances made it for me though, and I’d happily recommend anyone with nostalgia for sixth form politics to spend an hour with Ted and Doll.
Playing until 23rd October https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/epic-love-and-pop-songs/studio-at-new-wimbledon-theatre/
Reviewer: Zoë Meeres
Reviewed: 19th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★