Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick, Boom has always been the perfect show for fringe theatre, and this new production by London’s Bridge House Theatre stands tall in the small space.
Originally written as a one man show, later expanded to three characters, Tick, Tick, Boom charts the pre-mid-life-crisis of Jon (a struggling musical theatre composer) in New York on the verge of turning 30 in 1990. Is he failing? Should he just get a normal job? Should he leave New York? As he says at the start of the show, as ticking fills the air: “The sound you are hearing is not a technical problem. It is not a musical cue. It is not a joke. It is the sound of one man’s mounting anxiety. I am that man.”
Alex Lodge makes an appealing Jon, instantly connecting with the audience, all wide eyes and awkward grins. The show lives or dies on the strength of Jon, and Lodge energetically throws himself around the small stage with glee. Stressing over his 30th birthday, Lodge gives Jon a mix of youthful energy and weary panic; to misquote the Bard (aka Britney Spears), he’s “not a boy, not yet a man”.
The show is aimed at people who know musical theatre, from jokes about Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber, to the setting of a musical theatre workshop. Larson knew the audience would be made up of musical theatre fans, producers and critics and plays to their love of the genre. The song “Sunday”, a loving tribute/pastiche of Sondheim’s tune may not progress the narrative much, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Georgie Ashford plays Jon’s girlfriend Susan (and a variety of smaller roles), who carries the air of a long-suffering girlfriend who realises that her youthful relationship may not have what it takes for the long run.
Similarly James Hume jumps between roles primarily playing Jon’s best friend Michael (who traded in acting for a well-paid job in marketing). All pinstripes and braces he’s more Wall St than Madison Avenue, but Hume’s performance is warm and inviting. His physical height plays well into his shifting roles as Jon’s father, and Jon’s emotionally supportive best friend.
Vocally the trio blend different performance styles well, and director Guy Retallack (also the artistic director of the theatre) manages to navigate the show’s more dated moments and use the small stage to the fullest. A shout out to the production’s lighting by Richard Williamson, which effectively enhances the staging and has more moods than you usually see in a fringe venue.
For those who avoid fringe theatre for fear of cringe-worthy performance, you can relax – the Bridge House Theatre’s Tick, Tick, Boom does the material proud. It’s cheap fun, and it’s also damn good fun!
By Chad Armstrong