Venue: The Drama Barn
The musically brilliant and technically complicated ensemble piece Lift, chronicles the internal workings of eight ordinary people as they make the 54 second journey between the underground at Covent Garden station, and the ground level. It dives between individual stories, all seemingly seen through the eyes of George Doughty’s instantly loveable ‘Busker’, who we watch desperately try and finish his love song throughout the show, searching for the name of a stranger who’s smile has stolen his heart and reimagining the lives of the strangers around him to fit his own narrative.
Lift is not an easy musical, and perhaps is not the best way to introduce someone to theatre- for that, you should revert to the likes of Grease, Hairspray or Wicked, something with earwiggy tunes that force a foot tap or shoulder wiggle no matter how cynical you are. This show requires a bit more thought, and the slightly confusing narrative might, in some cases, have the potential to be even a little boring. The DramaSoc cast however, is consistently electric, and it’s hard not feel completely captivated for every second of this retelling. They bring coherence to the fragmented lives of the characters, making a unified whole out of so many droplets of individual truths.
And truly, any other cast might have struggled with this show – to pull off the layers and layers of complex harmonies that clash and overlap, alongside a narrative that never pauses for breath, is no mean feat. Terri Guerrero’s gut wrenching solo as ‘Lap Dancer’ denied anyone a dry eye, bringing on one of the longest mid-show applauses I’ve ever heard. The ‘French Teacher’ singing ‘Lost In Translations’ was another emotional climax- Anna Jones goes beyond mere melody with her audible heartbreak. No song was just song- every actor let us in to secret vulnerabilities and quirks. Fergus Piper’s initial smirks as ‘Bright Young Thing’ quickly dissolve into a much deeper conflict between the façade of the suit, and the truth of the helpless chatroom user with a broken heart. Anna Hale brought some necessary sparkle to the sadness with her portrayal of ‘Secretary’, perfectly executing the familiar tension between the hopeful and the hopeless. The line where she ponders ‘I almost said-‘, encapsulates both the essence of her character and of the show, which sends the overriding message that almost saying something is not enough.
The challenge of staging and directing a whole show whose action takes place solely within the confines of a lift and a tube carriage has been tackled with care and precision- it is clear that no shortcuts have been made. Em Barrett’s direction is faultless and the delicate movement of the ensemble designed by Tara Geraghty complements the action perfectly. The lighting and set design were no less impressive than the rest of it- the audience collectively gasped at the moment the lights of the lift sprung to life, a moment sound tracked by the electrifying chorus of all eight characters. These instants of synchronicity between the whole cast punctuate the show, and are really the most impressive moments we see.
Perhaps anything is possible with the support of a whole orchestra though, who cannot go unnoticed despite being hidden behind a curtain for the duration of the show. Directed by Josh Griffiths, who doubles as the keyboard player, the subtle orchestrations bring an important dynamic to the performance in front of the curtains. With the band and the actors together, closed eyes might have fooled you into believing you were listening to a recorded soundtrack, the only slight disappointment being moments of muffled voices on stage where tricky acoustics occasionally masked a sentence here and there.
In any case, the team behind Lift have truly gone above and beyond with this absolute monster of a show. Words fail when trying to describe the sheer emotion conveyed and felt, a production greater still than the sum of its (very talented) parts. Clever staging and clever direction alongside a pretty special cast surely make Lift one of the best shows the Barn has ever seen.