After You, The Crazy Coqs, London ★★★½

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

Over recent months, Brasserie Zedél’s live cabaret space, The Crazy Coqs, has been spreading its wings with comedy performers and plays complementing the more traditional cabaret. Now, it has a commissioned musical, written for and set in the venue by Alex Parker and Katie Lam.

Apart from raising one of the venue’s small tables onto a small dais for greater visibility, director Alastair Knights uses the venue as-is, occasionally moving the performances over to the bar area. The blurring of the lines between audience areas and performance space works in the context of the piece, helping to reinforce the cabaret setting.

Liam Doyle plays Chris, a young cabaret singer with a monthly residence at the Crazy Coqs, who falls for an audience member, Laura Tebbutt’s Sarah Lam. Both performers are charismatic singers, and their characters’ chemistry with one another is palpable.

Parker and Lam’s song styles are split between those in the traditional cabaret style (especially the opening I Love London’) which stand on their own merits, and a number of more contemplative numbers as the couple ruminate on their growing attraction to one another.

Tebbutt’s strong vocals really shine in these numbers, her character’s reticence and insecurity playing well against Doyle’s gung-ho performer. Lam’s dialogue often sparkles, helping sell the concept of a couple meeting and falling for each other well within in the one-act play’s 60 minute running time.

With a musical containing only two characters, introducing elements of conflict can prove more tricky. Initially, the tension is between the pair’s differing characters (with Sarah saying that while Chris lives for today, “I just think ‘how are you going to save for your pension?’”). The climax of their relationship comes when a job offer for one causes the other to reveal a long-standing secret – a moment which is tempered by such secret not really having much of a presence in the previous songs expressing said character’s inner thoughts.

But despite that narrative quibble, Parker and Lam construct a tale that fills its hour with a satisfying pace and with several pleasant numbers. As a piece of site-specific musical theatre, After You works well.