Technology is taking over our lives and, if we give into it too much, it might just control our every move. The scene opens, our protagonist Jeremy Heere (Scott Folan) sits topless at his desk, laptop open, lube at the ready. He’s your typical high school nerd, spending most of his free time playing video games with best friend Michael (Blake Patrick Anderson). He meets Christine – played with a marvellous urgency by Miracle Chance – and decides to join her in the school play. But he’s all awkward and aimless. He’s soon offered a pill that will change everything, the Squip, which creates a supercomputer inside his head (Stewart Clarke) that decides everything he says and does. As expected, this backfires quite badly, and we learn that technology is not always going to aid our survival.
Be More Chill feels like a diluted version of a hundred different stories that have already been told. It has a sort of zany humour that doesn’t ever get anywhere close to the absurd horror of something like Little Shop. And the emotional stakes feel pretty low throughout, as the audience are patronised through a very surface-level set of lyrics that tell rather than show us how the characters are feeling. The music is forgettable, save a really brilliant number in the second act, ‘Michael in the Bathroom’, performed wonderfully by Anderson who evokes a real sense of pity from us, particularly through the stillness in the second half. Most of the music takes a pause in the story to give off character exposition, not giving us much to drive the narrative.
Despite a story that doesn’t have much to grip onto, there’s a shed load of talent in this ensemble cast. Folan is hunched with fiddly hands at first, and totally transforms after his “upgrade” in the second act. Chance has a radiating warmth on stage with superb comic timing, and there’s a really lovely moment in the second act where the two come into physical contact centre stage. There’s a real touching chemistry on display during this interaction. Christopher Fry creates a fabulously flamboyant drama teacher, and Renée Lamb is a standout from the ensemble. The friendship between Folan and Anderson is performed with a lovely warmth, and it’s really nice to see a male friendship like this portrayed on stage.
It feels odd and predictable that a show which is commenting on our lost sense of touch and communication uses such a bare set, with video design to set the backdrop. Don’t get me wrong, the design is great, but it’s a difficult thing to feel an emotional connection to, which ultimately leaves me disengaged. Chase Brock’s choreography is quite basic; it brings a unison to the chorus to create some nice stage images, but along with the video design, it adds to the digital-robotic feeling of the show which makes it tricky to find its heart.
You’ve also got the fact that Christine specifically talks about there not being enough lead roles for women in theatre, and then she disappears for a big chunk of the first act. The female characters spend most of the show being flirtatious and talking about guys. There’s some interesting ideas being explored at the core: relationships and loss of touch in the digital age, male friendship, porn addiction, but the story arc and general aesthetic simplifies these.
It feels like it’d be better off properly targeted at a teenage audience, who I think would engage more enthusiastically with its ideas. Be More Chill features a fabulously talented cast in a very watery transfer from across the pond.
Be More Chill is playing The Other Palace until 3 May. For more information and tickets, visit the Be More Chill website.