When the reviewer writes, he must remember that many, if not all, of the people that read his words will not actually get to see it themselves. He has incredible power to influence how a play is perceived and received. He must remember that his own perspective is subjective and that his prejudices are his own and must not be allowed to impact the review.
Let’s start with what The Distance You Have Come is. It is a ‘song cycle’ – yeah, me neither – a play done purely in song. The ‘story’ is about six people who do love in various ways. In The Distance You Have Come there are plenty of positive moments. The singing was pretty good, important as the whole ‘song cycle’ is done ‘Les Miz’ style, though the music system sometimes failed to keep up with the actors’ gusto.
The theatre was close and intimate, the stage round and simple. The props, a bench and a swing, were often well used, though there is a limit to how many times one can stand up on a swing and it still be endearing. There are funny parts and Jodie Jacobs as Anna was exceptional, funny and endearing.
I can’t decide whether to include in this list the fact that LG and B is represented in a touching and non-tokenistic way. Should we cheer when writers do what is right and proper? I include it as important and relevant and in recognition of the world we live in.
This leaves what is less successful about the performance. The whole play comes across as a mix of Into the Woods and Bridget Jones’ Baby and the hybrid is less than successful. The whole thing opens with a series of characters expressing general discontent with their lives in trans-Atlantic show-tune style anthems that seem at odds with the search for a partner, descent into alcoholism and a long-term relationship breaking down.
What is more, these early songs all feature a superfluity of fairy tale references (‘Once upon a time’, ‘I’m a Star’ and ‘Magic’ to name the first three). This makes the cast feel petulant and immature. These are grown adults making poor life decisions and singing about going to Neverland.
The first half continues in this way, lurching between the sugar sweet happiness of Brian and Samuel as the post-racial, post-hetero power couple and the unfulfilled misery of the rest of the cast. What is the point being made here? The two lesbians sing about one of them walking out and leaving only a note. They still look pretty happy in comparison to the other woman, who, failing auditions left and right, has pulled a disappearing act, and the remaining bloke who takes his clothes off to reveal an incredible body in a lovely set piece involving generic hooded figures. Depression never looked this good and we retire for the interval and drinks.
This is a trendy place so date and I get a tumbler of red on the house. This is why one becomes an art critic; opportunities for accepting bribery abound. Potentially aided by the wine or loose journalistic morals, the second half begins strong. The show tunes feel more appropriate to the second half spirit of ‘it’ll all be alright in the end’ and the cast actually feel united in recovery, Brianuel having fallen into some easily resolvable strife. Drunk gets picked up and dunked in the magic cure-all bench whose seat lifts up to reveal a trough of all things. Quick wipe of the magic sponge and clothes back on and he is ready for a meeting with his ex, who lo and behold is the woman who magically/conveniently gets her Broadway part.
Love is amazingly revealed to be the cure to everything as Samurian cop themselves a baby and Anna the “stereotypical lesbian in recovery” meets “stereotypical alcoholic in recovery”. She looks at his arse and, get this, the female jogger’s and your heart melts a little bit as they go for a walk. Top the whole thing off with yet another anthem called ‘The Distance You Have Come” to tell us all to keep going, find love and be happy. Love Actually and Shrek come together in the end and we never saw it coming.
This could be someone’s cup of tea. The cast is star spangled and the music bounces along. Some of the songs are finger tappingly good (though I can’t remember any of the lyrics) and the actors are all very cute. The Cockpit Theatre is close in Marylebone, and if the mood took you this could be a very fun night out. Go if you want to, go if you don’t.