Giving a play the title of a vegetable makes one instantly think of health and food, but not until right at the end of the play is it revealed where the connection comes from. One can argue over whether Spinach is an appropriate title for such a well-made sung play with a lot of twists and stories within. Written and directed by Janine Waters, this Waters Edge production, first performed in Manchester’s Royal Exchange Studio last year, is quick paced, very often funny and deeply engaging due to its four excellent performers.
It starts with Kate (Cassandra Compton) and Tom (Ben Gerrard) waking up tied back to back in a cellar of a house not remembering how they got there or who the other is. They then realise that they have been drugged and bit-by-bit they remember and reconstruct the story, up to the dangerous truth.
Right from the start, the recitative style of singing is engaging and shows off the performers’ abilities. Compton has a beautifully clear and very expressive voice, which shows a wide variety. Her strong-willed, sweet and comical character matches Gerrard’s slightly quirky pharmacist (although his handsome looks make it hard to understand why this character does not get a girlfriend). Both of them drive the play and have strong chemistry with each other.
Tom’s colleagues, Maureen (Claire Greenway) and Darren (Craig Whittaker) are equally connected and add a huge variety to the visual storytelling as well as being very talented singers and dancers. Greenway, as the cleanliness-obsessed Maureen, has a hysterically funny song which shows off her comedy skills. She also accompanies some pieces with the saxophone, which lends a deeper, jazzier tone to the atmosphere. Whittaker, who was one of the original Manchester cast, can show the biggest versatility of the four. Playing the good friend of Tom turning evil, he adds to the music by playing the drums, the ukulele and the guitar.
Simon Waters, the composer and musical director accompanies the cast on the piano and has a great skill for making the music match the occasion. At times though, it can seem as if the rhythm of each piece stays the same; the tendency for upbeat piano accompaniment becomes a bit monotonous. There are some very good show numbers, which are wonderfully choreographed by Laura Asbury.
The set design by Kevin Freeman uses the small space very well and the performers cleverly guide the audience from present to past and back. Occasionally it all feels a bit rushed and some conclusions seem to be put together just to link the story and don’t feel properly justified. The climate feels very dark and sudden; compared to the build up, Spinach solves the plot a bit too neatly and easily.
The epilogue ends on a high note with a lovely arranged song, which shows what a brilliant and versatile cast they are. With an unusual plot and strong performers, this is an entertaining piece with great originality.