When I arrived at the Camden People’s Theatre on Thursday night, despite having been there several times before, I walked straight past it. It has had a lovely post-pandemic spruce up and the space felt clean, calm and inviting. Then, my heart sank when I saw the promotional poster for the show. “Say Yes to Tess – A New Musical”. Now don’t get me wrong, fringe theatre is very much my bag, and the description I’d read of the piece had really appealed to me, but goodness me… a musical in an intimate setting is the stuff of my nightmares. I’m pleased to report, though, that I was very pleasantly surprised and had a genuinely uplifting and enjoyable evening.
Say Yes to Tess is Tess Seddon’s autobiographical retelling of her experience standing as a candidate for the Yorkshire Party in the 2017 General Election. As a Civil Servant with a fairly keen interest in politics, I vividly remember the aftermath of the Referendum and specifically the prevalent disenfranchisement that drove Seddon to dip her toe into politics. The north/south divide, the feeling that politics is reserved for the elite, the countless people who don’t vote because they “don’t do politics”. All of these complicated, divisive, real-and-present issues are explored in the production, but in the most accessible, warm and above all entertaining way
Despite my reservations about this being a musical, the songs – written by co-director Harry Blake – were the absolute highlight for me. The perfect combination of catchy and witty, slightly silly but laugh out loud funny, some would not have been out of place in the West End. Seddon is also blessed with a terrific cast – Kofi Dennis, Jamie Noar, Purvi Parmar and Andrew Whitehead – who shift in and out of characters but remain gelled and smooth. The small stage is fully occupied and the use of polling booths as doors/windows/entrances and exits is fun and also functional. The musical performances are on point – with the exception of Tess herself who stresses early on that she isn’t a singer and is sadly probably the weakest of all the performers – and Jamie Noar as Musical Director expertly provides all musical accompaniment.
The characters Tess meets along the way are charmingly written – realistic enough to be believable while being outrageous enough to be funny. And Tess herself has an interesting and touching story to tell about identity, self-belief, friendship and of course Yorkshire. I did find myself getting a bit fidgety towards the end and I wonder if condensing the performance into an hour rather than 90 minutes would be a better audience experience. But on the whole, this was a fun show that provided an above average number of belly laughs and left me feeling warm and fuzzy.
Playing until 16th April, https://cptheatre.co.uk/whatson/Say-Yes-to-Tess–A-New-Musical
Reviewer: Zoë Meeres
Reviewed: 7th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★