January, Live at Zédel, London ★★★

Reviewed for Musical Theatre Review:

TS Eliot was three months too late. The cruellest month is not April, but January – when the post-Christmas comedown collides with hard-to-maintain resolutions, topped off by grotty weather. Such is the premise of this nascent new cabaret show, with a variety of comedy songs by Patrick Stockbridge set in the first month of every year.

January is very much a work-in-progress show, although it’s one that performers Julie Atherton, Hannah Grover and Marc Pickering are having a blast exploring. There’s a definite sense of knockabout charm in the way the trio bound on and off the minuscule stage, scripts in hand.

It is also a show that is far more obsessed with Christmas than most people are at this time of year, from songs detailing the annoying postcards from friends who are spending their festive season abroad, to a flustered HR manager litigating a flurry of allegations from the mid-December office Christmas party.

It’s understandable that the events of 2016 play heavy on the start of the show in particular, from the US elections to a list of names of performers and celebrities that passed away over the previous 12 months. Somewhat unfortunately, though, the list lacks much in the way of structure, although intoning it in time to the three-piece band’s underscoring suggests that there ought to be.

The show’s best numbers are the ones that feel like they have a definite sense of this time of year, from Atherton’s struggles with a ‘dry January’ (and the subsequently spectacular tumble off the wagon) to an anthem to the annoyance of self-assessment in ‘A Very Short Song About Tax’, a number which would benefit from pruning some of its latter verses if only to make the title a little more honest.

Other numbers feel like they are more generic whose set-ups have been tweaked just enough to fit them into the show’s premise. From Pickering’s ‘Workforce Wanker’ to Grover and Pickering’s long-term couple misunderstanding each other during a marriage proposal, there’s a definite sense that the situations are more year-round than the show suggests.

Other numbers, from celebrating being a couch potato while the weather’s bad outside to lowering one’s standards in the quest for sex, suffer the similar fate of not feeling quite ‘January’ enough. And a song about the perils of starting a new diet – staple of many a New Year’s resolution – starts promisingly with a ‘Cell Block Tango’ introduction before settling into a much lighter comedic tone.

While an hour in the company of Atherton and friends – and accompanied by the sharp three-piece band under musical director Tim Gilvin – is always worthwhile, there is a sense of work still to be done to make January a true success.

As it is, when Atherton describes the month of January as “not very razzle dazzle and not very uplifting”, there is a risk at times of that description also fitting the show.

But between each iteration of this show, Stockbridge and book writer Alexander Parker will have approximately 12 months to work and rework it, so future Januarys should be much brighter.

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