This is such an intriguing project and, I imagine, a lot of fun for both James Rottger and Kouban productions to create, and then see take off. It’s a massive accomplishment for a musical with an incredibly specific subject matter like this to make it as far as the stage, and for people to believe in it.
What many theatregoers don’t realise – or probably don’t care about – is that a lot of the staff serving them, whether it’s selling programmes, ice-cream or a glass of rosé are actually, like those on stage, professionals in the entertainment industry. They too have trained in some sort of performing art or creative discipline, and this is simply a way to pay their rent when work in their preferred career is scarce.
Ushers: The Front of House Musical marks Rottger’s writing début and is the first completed project for Yiannis Koutsakos and James Oban of Kouban productions, an up-and-coming writing and producing duo. The two made it into the final of Twitter’s mysterious @WestEndProducer’s competition.
My initial concerns about this musical were whether those unfamiliar with the front of house ‘world’ would understand what they were watching. I imagined there would be a lot of ‘in-jokes’ that would be pretty hilarious to anybody who does or has done ushering, but may be lost on those oblivious to it. I also worried that the comedy would not be ‘right’, as the general point of this sort of subject matter is that it is not taken too seriously, and to have a joke at the expense of the ‘other side’ or the patrons.
The space in the Hope is just too small for this production, with particular reference to the dancing which coincides with the musical numbers. Everything is just too hectic and overwhelming and the songs are completely forgettable. The singing though, is very good on all accounts. Props are used relevantly and the idea of staging a Britney musical in the theatre where the ushers work, whilst not brilliant, is a nice comedic touch.
Like the singing, the actual performances are by and large quite good, if a little shaky to begin with. Chloë Brooks’s Rosie is a full-on hilarious psychopath and she gives everything to put this across to the audience. However, I feel as though development-wise this character could have grown significantly more than she did. Perhaps stage time given to couple Ben and Gary (Liam Ross-Mills and Will Jennings) could have been handled more wisely and given to Rosie. Ralph Bogard’s Robin is by far the weakest of the bunch. Consistently forgetting lines is just not on, especially when providing entertainment to a paying audience, and it seems as though he isn’t at all in tune with the character he is portraying. On first impressions Robin is a bitchy queen, but progressing through it turns out Bogard is trying to be smug and a sleaze ball – towards his female employees… This just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
Ultimately, this isn’t absolutely awful. Whilst the details are quite specific to those familiar with front of house, I think it could still be interesting and funny for those who aren’t. There are some touching moments, with flickers of comedy, and the talent on the whole is above average. The problem, I feel is that it is just not ready. As mentioned, character development could be looked at again and the space it is being performed in should be taken far more into consideration. A lot of polishing should do it.
Ushers: The Front of House Musical is playing at the Hope Theatre until 31 December. For more information and tickets, see the Ushers Musical website.
Photo Credit John Hunter.