If C4 sitcom Fresh Meat were a musical, you’d get something akin to Lovestuck, a classic coming-of-age tale of self-discovery, unlikely friendships and the trials and tribulations of starting university. A fun, light watch with great musical moments, if somewhat clichéd and sadly not as punchy as its silver screen predecessor.
Produced by Curious Tales Theatre, Lovestuck follows Charlie as he embarks on his first week at university in London. A shy boy from a fairly conservative background, Charlie is only just coming to terms with his sexuality and is nervous what people will think; the only person he has told he’s gay is his mother, who dismissed it as “just a phase”. Fortunately, his first acquaintance at university is Lily, a blue-haired photography student who is so artistically attuned that she understands him instantly – after all, photographers ‘can see everything’ through their lens. Enter Charlie’s roommate, Jake, a dungeons-and-dragons obsessed computer nerd, and the surprising trio bond over a night of Jack Daniels and embarrassing drunken hijinks. A band of caricatures that are likeable but a little unoriginal.
Played by a live group of talented musicians, the varied music stays strong throughout the production; composers and songwriters PJ Nielsen and Jake Few display great flair. We enter to lilting, atmospheric guitar chords that set an evocative mood. Later, the show picks up with ‘Bottleneck Memories’, a song to which the freshers dance and make merry on their first night, is a lively, catchy piece that playfully captures the hazy, carefree mood of nights spent drinking. For me, the music was undoubtedly the stand-out element of the production.
Drama ensues as Charlie develops his first real crush, a second-year student in a difficult relationship who immediately opens up to Charlie about a dark past of which he has never before spoken to anyone – let alone his wayward boyfriend. Moments like this, which feels stilted and trite, undermine the better elements of the production – the script is frequently too reliant on cliches.
Visually, Curious Tales make great use of the space. In the dark, semi-circular room of the Cockpit Theatre, the band sit behind a partially sheer curtain against which whimsical graphics are projected throughout the production. On entering, we see a triptych of pulsating pink shapes (an oval, an oblong and a heart)- I’m not sure if they were intended to look quite so obscene, but they certainly establish a sexual tone.
Overall, this was an enjoyable watch notable for its music and staging, but hardly a groundbreaking production.
Lovestuck played at the Cockpit Theatre until July 30.
Photo: Dylan Kulmayer