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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
LOSERVILLE
at the Garrick

BROKEN RECORD
By JOHN NATHAN

  Eliza Hope Bennett and Aaron Sidwell/ Ph: Tristram Kenton

You've seen this new British musical before. Or at least you've seen its high school characters: the bullied nerds and the much prettier frat brats who rule the roost. You've seen them in just about every American high school film, TV show and, yes, musical that has been made over the last four decades or so. And bubbly and colourful as Loserville is, it's weighed down by that nagging sense of déjà vu brought on by off-the-shelf characters who explore familiar themes in a storyline that is so well known that by comparison it makes you a stranger to the back of your hand. 

Although former boy band frontman James Bourne and writer Elliot Davis share both composing and book-writing credits, it's Bourne who must take the majority of the credit for a clutch of good teen-rock songs, often very well sung in Steven Dexter's energetic production. And it is Davis who must take most of the blame for failing to find a more interesting way to explore familiar territory.

This is a show rooted in Americana. Yet it started life at North England's West Yorkshire Playhouse, and before that some of the music formed a pop album that Bourne recorded with his band Son of Dork, the group that followed the composer's first and best known band, Busted.

On the face of it, Davis' approach well suits Bourne's teen-angsty score. Setting the show in 1971, his hero is computer geek Michael Dork (Aaron Sidwell), whose ambition is to send the world's first email. And around this neat idea – not just Dork's but Davis' – there are some skillfully integrated subplots involving Dork's fellow, lovelorn nerds. But much more prosaically, this is a tale in which geeks are bullied by better looking and stronger frat brats until the worms turn, the bullies get their just desserts and the geeks inherit the Earth.

As a bit of a musical nerd myself, I can tell you that this show is unique in being the only British musical in the West End that is not adapted or based on a previous work. But this freedom hasn't resulted in originality. The story of Loserville – which is not so much a place as a condition endured by the uncool, unpopular and unattractive – is steeped in high school stories of the past. Anyone older than the show's teenage target audience will get flashbacks to a canon of high school films.

I'm not suggesting that the genre is dead. But you can't revive a tale about weak geeks triumphing over their more attractive bullies without acknowledging that the story has been told a zillion times before. A little irony might have saved the day. Where Loserville loses is with its sincerity. It's as if it thinks it's the first show to tell an old tale.

 


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