We communicate through more channels and more often, but we lose the quality of communication. “We would rather build imaginary lives around us,” observe the writers of Lift – just beginning its month long run at the Soho Theatre – Craig Adams and Ian Watson. We all live in parallel universes – parallel universes from each other. And we have parallel images of ourselves. How we see ourselves, how we present ourselves to others and how they see us. And so we find it hard to be open and revealing about what is really happening inside.
What does it mean to be a human being? Today. In London. I can’t remember the last time I saw a play that is so frank about modern life. Not relying on any pussy footing, farce or satire. Lift dares to break down all these shields and shows us the emotional backstage of eight Londoners thrown together by chance in a lift on its way up to Covent Garden Station exit.
Producer Jim Zalles admits that lift “it’s not to everyone’s taste”. And I could see why. It is open and honest about how we have sex and what we do to go about getting it. Some may think the lyrics crude, especially if one is not comfortable with the idea of speaking openly about gay men getting blowjobs in saunas and lesbian French teachers going for a lap dance to take their mind off things.
But that is how life goes. Beneath what may appear seedy can often be some much purer need – love. And the incredible pain that comes with it when the one we love is out of our reach.
I am not a fan of musicals. But now that I think about it, the musicals I used to form my prejudice are the ones aimed at a more mainstream audience. And Lift bears none of the criteria – cheesy lyrics, mediocre score, predictable storyline, grandiose set design, tiresome dance routines and an unnecessary number of cast members – that led me to dismiss the musical as an art form.
Craig Adams music and lyrics and Ian Watson’s book lay the groundwork – the cast and band build Lift up into something magnificent. Each actor carries us into their characters’ heads and hearts and by the end of the 80 minutes we know them better than ourselves.
Georgia Lowe’s set is simple and the “lift’s” frame is lit up and slid around the stage as the story moves out of the space and into the lives and minds of our characters, and back again. Director Steven Paling’s choreography is also simple and unfancy but very good: a production such as Lift does not need to rely on gimmicks.
Thinking about anything but oral sex while receiving oral sex, loving someone we have never spoken to, wanting the wrong people, being impulsive and self-destructive, living through the internet and day dreams about dates. Each of the eight has something we can relate to.
James Orange’s casting is spot on, although I did have trouble believing in the “gayness” of lead character Gabrielle, played excellently and endearingly by Jonny Fines. Though, given his confusion over his lifestyle, this is perhaps fitting. Another star in my eyes is Cynthia Erivo as the lap dancer, in love with her gay best friend. What a body! What a voice! And then there is the English Rose beauty of Nikki Davis-Jones as doting secretary to Luke Kempner’s career-driven Bright Young Thing. Ellie Kirk and Robbie Towns are the American tourists and avatars for the online personas of Gabrielle and Bright Young Thing. George Maguire is the guitar-playing busker who sings the story together.
I am so glad to have watched a production that presents love, feeling, emotions, life how it actually is. I wanted to cry many times throughout. And afterwards, as well. Partly out of empathy and partly because I had never seen any work of art that was more relevant to me. How comforting it is when you see that another person, another parallel universe, has experienced the same pain as you.
Great songs and music, gorgeous actors. What are you waiting for?
On until 24 February at Soho Theatre, Dean Street.