In Notion Theatre Company’s presentation of Bobby Cronin’s musical Daybreak, we follow the challenge of finding your reason for living and finding another person to live it with. Universal themes indeed. Cronin’s Daybreak takes a contemporary view of the world where secrecy about sexuality is up against the existence of Facebook and the desire to be the person who you really are. It’s a complicated musical with shifting scenes that makes the narrative a somewhat jolted experience. Coupled with Notion Theatre Company’s presentation it makes for a wholly disappointing affair.
The story is essentially a simple one: Rebecca (Suzy Bastone) and Dylan (Matt Stevens) are trying to find themselves after some fifteen years of marriage by moving back to the home Dylan grew up in. Surrounded by his childhood memories and with the words of the past echoing in his mind, Dylan finally explores his true sexuality, causing the breakdown of his marriage but ultimately happiness for all. This is overlapped by Dylan’s parents’ story, where Kelly (Kayleigh Louise-Smith) and Jamie (Tom Senior) save each other from jumping off a bridge by finding strength in each other. Through their relationship we see how Jamie’s desires to be a singer-songwriter are squashed to look after Kelly’s unborn child (the real father fled when told). Interlaced throughout are references to Facebook, sexuality, following your dream and issues with your parents – a little overbearing for a four-handed musical.
The faults within Daybreak, which is currently playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre, come in many forms. Cronin’s book is far too involved with itself to develop characters who become likeable, with songs that create more of a episodic narrative than a linear through-line for the piece. Equally, it’s difficult to find Cronin’s musical memorable as songs seemingly merge into each other with little development. Of course it’s not just Cronin’s book that’s to blame; Hayley Cusick’s direction does little to help, lacking in focus, often being distracting and feeling forced from her performers. It isn’t helped by Kady Howey Nunn’s clunky set design offering little to the imagination, although there is some rather dashing wallpaper.
If Daybreak suffers from the book and direction, then sadly it is not saved by the casting either. Whilst the performers each clearly have strong musical backgrounds and have a fine ability to fill the Tristan Bates Theatre with their voices, the lack of musical direction to complement the vocal ranges leaves little subtlety. Louise-Smith’s fine voice is continually forced up against Senior’s booming vocals, and when this is joined during songs such as the title ‘Daybreak’ and ’You’re Mine’ we’re left deafened. At times there is some forced acting and character portrayal which goes further to alienate the audience from the characters. It seems that we are not to care for their actions, and even during the apparent uplifting finale when they have all found themselves, little emotion is felt. There are however some enjoyable moments when the performers seem more at ease with themselves and don’t force their vocals to fill the space. It is during these tender moments that we can begin to see how Cronin’s book could lend itself to some depth, especially during Cry and Lullaby. It is a real shame that this is short lived as there is talent amongst all of the cast if teased out right, but not when it feels forced and overacted. Strong vocals perhaps, but a lack of direction and clarity leads Daybreak into less of an awakening, and more into a bemused wake up call.
Daybreak is playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 30 June. For more information and tickets, see the Tristan Bates Theatre website.