Paper Hearts

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2016

reviews

Maddy Searle

at 22:10 on 21st Aug 2016

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‘Paper Hearts the Musical’ is blessed with an enthusiastic and multi-talented cast, who can play, sing and act their proverbial hearts out. The musical numbers are catchy and well-executed, with rapturous applause following each one. The plot of the musical, however, is more of a mixed bag, as the main story retreads Hollywood's ground and the sub-plot can be hard to follow in its complexity.

The main plot follows the fortunes of bookseller/writer Atticus Smith (Adam Small). Small’s portrayal of Atticus allows the audience to empathise instantly, as he struggles to finish his novel. Gabriella Margulies plays Lily, a representative of an online conglomerate who wants to take Atticus’s bookshop into her own hands. Margulies brings a warmth to this character, despite her fiercer moments. The relationship between Atticus and Lily, however, is not hugely compelling, as their initial meeting, subsequent bickering and sudden romance are straight out of any number of well-known romcoms. Also, even though their relationship suffers some setbacks, the drama is somewhat lacking.

The sub-plot concerns the book which Atticus is writing, and centres around his fictional Russian protagonists Isaac and Yanna. The first musical number which introduces these characters is very wordy, and sometimes important plot points are lost in the flurry of lyrics. Also, the melodrama of Yanna’s life is hard to sympathise with, since it is suddenly sprung on the audience with little lead-up or context. But Isaac’s final confrontation with his foe is beautifully linked with James’s own difficulties, bringing the story to an emotional, satisfying conclusion.

The musical numbers vary in style and mood, giving the audience a wide range of auditory treats to feast on. Sondheim-style tunes give way to jazzy songs and sentimental ballads, each performed with professional excellence. Sadly, the postage-stamp of a stage impedes the amount of dancing the cast can manage, and the musicians take up a lot of space. When the whole cast is onstage, it looks a bit cosy, but the actors continue valiantly.

The story of ‘Paper Hearts’ may not be brain-shatteringly original, but it is a pleasant evening’s entertainment. If you fancy some good old-fashioned musical theatre, mixed in with a Soviet romance, this show is a good bet.

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Nina Klaff

at 13:24 on 22nd Aug 2016

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This love story is not without its intricacies. Atticus, the as yet unfulfilled author who works a dead-end job in a bookshop, falls for Lilly (Gabriella Margulies), the clean-cut corporate representative of his father’s company, who has come to take over his beloved store. Lindsay McAllister’s choreography is enjoyably predictable and beautifully performed, and if live music, slapstick, wit, dancing, and really excellent acting isn’t enough to persuade you to see this show, the social commentary component may well be.

Liam O’Rafferty’s writing is a condemnation of the replacement of bookshops with their online equivalents, as Atticus (with all his name's literary significance) must fight a David and Goliath battle. The brilliantly versatile backdrop has been carefully calculated by set designer Anna Driftmier. It allows the cast to meander through scene changes so quickly that they go unnoticed.

Meanwhile, the characters of Atticus’ unfinished novel, Yanna (Sinéad Wall) and Isaak (Matthew Atkins), carry out a Russian period drama to the soundtrack of vivacious folk songs and some minor faltering accents. Their lives are altered by their author’s, and vice versa, in a show so entertaining that even the cheesy haltered kissing and forlorn looks of longing are charming.

Every cast member is outstanding. Their range is put to the test by the complexity of a double plot; meanwhile they also juggle every aspect of the production themselves, from stage hands to orchestra. Even the ensemble bears some shining stars: the comic timing of Alec White’s Agony Barman is excellent, and Jessica Pardoe’s dancing is captivating.

The only disappointment is that some of the acoustics are lost on the repurposed lecture hall. This is despite some evident attempts at soundproofing. Additionally, at times the microphones being in front of the stage was distracting, but I have no doubt this will be entirely remedied once this musical reaches bigger stages, as I’m sure it will.

Had I been left to my own devices, I probably would not have elected to attend anything with ‘musical’ in the title, but this is an all-singing, all-dancing, all-round threat to every other performance at the Fringe. An elegy to the printed word, the cast’s perfect execution of O’Rafferty’s concept certainly wins over this paper heart.

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