With a title like Picture Perfect, one thing you know about the show before seeing it is that things are not going to turn out so perfect. In the cosy studio in the basement of the St James Theatre in Victoria, empty frames on the wall signal trouble – and so does the impeccably white couch, a design element that in the theatre has come to be a synonym for ‘middle class’ and ‘not all is what it seems’.
This very short musical traces the breaking apart of a family due to Harry (Jérôme Pradon) betraying his wife Elizabeth (Helen Hobson) with 22-year-old Ellie (Charlotte Wakefield) while their son Josh (Joel Harper-Jackson) suffers from an unrequited love for a married man. While that already sounds like a lot of storytelling to be done in one hour, right in the middle we find out that Harry enjoys casual sex, Elizabeth secretly spends his cash online and Ellie and Josh abuse drugs to escape their problems. Overall, Picture Perfect may have set itself a task too big for its own good.
The third in a season of American work produced by United Theatrical, the production (directed by Simon Greiff) consists entirely of songs (music and lyrics by Scott Evan Davis) performed by a classic combo of piano and cello. The music is never great but consistently pleasant; the words are too often clichés that don’t shed any light on what is supposed to be a complex story about life choices and human emotions. Much like a soap opera, nothing is ever shown to be happening but everything is discussed after the matter, leaving the events out of the equation. This also hinders our understanding of which of the four people this show is actually about.
There are, however, some highlights, in the music also: ensemble songs like ‘Everyone Has a Vice’ (though adding a completely unexpected layer to the narrative that is dropped like a brick once the song is over) are genuinely fun and cleverly irreverent while giving the actors something substantial to work with. It is especially Pradon as the increasingly loony and creepy husband who steals the show with his antics.
Nevertheless, the musical is clearly meant to have serious matters at its heart, and it is therefore a shame that it never earns our concern about what happens to the individual characters or indeed the family as a broken entity. It is not only too short for that, but it also clearly wants to condense too many major subjects into the narrative, cramming storylines into songs that then can only be extremely generic. This is the problem, and it prevents Picture Perfect from being the poignant commentary I was hoping for when seeing the title for the first time.
More a collection of songs than a coherent narrative, Picture Perfect could benefit from choosing one story instead of attempting so many and failing at most of them.
Picture Perfect played at the St James Theatre. For more information, see the St James Theatre website. Photo by Jamie Scott-Smith.