Whether you like their work or not, you can’t deny that the Flanagan Collective are always trying to come up with something new and original, and more often than not, something that tries to redefine a theatrical genre. Fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe after success with their latest batch of work, including Snakes and Giants, the company has returned to their home city of York with their play Some Small Love Story.
Directed by Joe Hufton, Some Small Love Story’s blurb promises its audience that it ‘redefines the musical theatre genre’ with some unique storytelling. We meet four performers: Veronica Hare, Oliver Tilney, Serena Manteghi and Michael Slater. They stand in a line at one end of a freezing tent at the back of the Gillygate Pub, surrounded by flickering candles in jars and are accompanied by composer and musical director Gavin Whitworth on piano. Never moving from their spots, they begin to tell two separate stories of lovers across time and in different circumstances, with songs interspersed in between.
There’s a fine line to be tread between pretentious and highly original – and thankfully, Some Small Love Story can be found at the latter end of the scale. After you get used to the format, you begin to truly immerse yourself in a piece that’s void of physical characters, but isn’t short of catalysts that drive and fuel your imagination. The play makes it clear that this is a unique live experience to be shared amongst the cascades of your own experiences, your own relationships and your own memories.
The four performers do a stunning job of telling the two stories of the play. They quietly and exponentially generate an infectious energy that pulsates beneath your seat, and you feel compelled to invest in the live experience. Their clear vocals resonate throughout the venue, and their gorgeous harmonies create a smooth aural texture that further invites you to listen to these stories.
While the format of Wright’s text greatly differs from other musicals in the genre, its general structure isn’t that different, which does make it an accessible piece. It doesn’t do anything spectacular in such an approach to structure – but that isn’t what Some Small Love Story is about. It’s a piece that casts away the superficial artifice of more conventional, commercialised musicals and asks its audience to re-evaluate what the genre means to them and how they interact with it. While the fragmented narrative may be jarring to some, you warm to it and get used to it.
In its short running time of an hour, Some Small Love Story once again proves itself as a formidable, unique piece of theatre. It’s a piece that lays its cards out and perfectly achieves what it sets out to do. That’s why I urge you to give it a chance, wherever it appears in its next incarnation. But it’s absolutely certain that this version, with the original cast, is nothing short of special. The Flanagan Collective are becoming masters of curating work that taps into theatre’s inherent, unique ability to bring people together in a shared, live experience.
Even in the chilliness of a tarpaulin tent at the back of a pub in York, the Flanagan Collective create a warm, touching piece of theatre. No matter where this show is, you can be certain it’s quite unlike other slices of entertainment in such a multi-faceted industry. Some Small Love Story is a piece that has grown since its inception several years back, and I have no doubt that it’ll continue to grow in years to come.
Some Small Love Story played at the Gillygate from 24 – 25 September. For more information on The Flanagan Collective, visit their website.