From Here has its press night under incredibly difficult circumstances: two cast members have been forced to isolate due to Track and Trace, and the show has to start twenty minutes late due to train delays and cancellations following flash flooding across London. In spite of this, it carves an hour and a half of warmth and light out of a very damp, dreary day.
Penned by recent GSA grads Ben Barrow and Lucy Ireland, From Here is a new British musical about beginnings, endings and what can be found in the ‘middle of a moment’. The cast of four take on roles ranging from anxious commuter to fed-up roommate to four-year-old girl, all switching character easily: Annabelle Hollingdale’s direction makes the transitions smooth, and there are glimpses of an exciting creativity in her staging choices.
Watching Grace Mouat as Person One, it’s easy to see why she has become a West End fan favourite: she has an impressive stage presence and a powerful voice. As Person Three, Andrew Patrick-Walker gives a sharp, honest performance, particularly during ‘The Monster Under the Bed’, an emotional number about living with OCD. With two cast members unable to perform, writers Barrow and Ireland stepped into the roles of Persons Two and Four respectively; it is difficult to believe they had been rehearsed in only that afternoon. Barrow is genuine and likeable, while Ireland has a voice to die for and is perhaps the stand-out of this cast, particularly wowing in ‘Home to You’, a tear-jerking solo about moving away to university.
Almost every song in From Here demonstrates real skill in musical theatre writing. ‘Home to You’ is a perfectly constructed ballad, with the potential to become a showcase/audition staple. ‘Smile This Way’, a song about a man who falls in love with photography after being gifted a camera by his grandma, is a full narrative in itself and really tugs at the heartstrings, while still featuring clever lyrics and fun backing harmonies. ‘The Monster Under the Bed’ is the emotional high point of the show, while ‘7.30pm (The English Teacher’s Soliloquy)’ is a joy to watch, laced with witty musical theatre references.
While as stand-alone pieces the songs are fantastic, the issue with From Here is that it lacks the continuity and cohesion to work as a show – it’s more of a song cycle than a musical in the traditional sense. But even within this genre, the theme connecting the songs feels too vague, too abstract. There are rhyming monologues to link the songs together, but they feel strained and superfluous. While there are recurring motifs in the music, the lack of narrative means they don’t give us that sense of pay-off. There are also a lot of parallels to Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days – I’d be excited to see what the composers would be able to do with a truly original concept.
While From Here may not be the next musical phenomenon, it clearly marks Barrow and Ireland as ones to watch in the world of new musical theatre writing. They have a deep understanding of the genre and are able to combine fluent, emotionally literate lyrics with catchy melodies and intricate harmonies. If they can pen this many excellent musical songs in one year – and over Zoom – I really can’t wait to see what they go on to do. I look forward to being able to say I caught the premiere of their first show when their big hit opens on the West End one day.
From Here is playing at the Chiswick Playhouse until 7 August. For more information and tickets, see the Chiswick Playhouse website.