Eliza Hope Bennett & Aaron Sidwell. Photo: Francis Loney
You wouldn't want to admit to feeling at home with a new musical called Loserville, but Elliot Davis and James Bourne's new show - produced by Kevin Wallace in collaboration with the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Youth Music Theatre UK - doesn't exactly invite audience identification anyway.
It's a goofy cod American throwback - why?! - to the Grease-style high school musical (without the catchy ersatz rock and roll qualities of Grease) in which a bunch of pimply geeks get over-excited about the school's first computer system (the year is 1971) and sniff the future dating possibilities of e-mail.
Yes, it's a sort of home-made Meccano version of The Social Network, with a bunch of songs, most of them lively, anodyne and relentlessly unmemorable, performed with great dash and enthusiasm on one of the most amazing low-tech designs I've seen in a long while.
"One day every corporation will fear a geek in a garage," somebody cries, an eerily prophetic remark, perhaps, in a week when computer hacker Gary McKinnon has been granted his non-extradition order by the Home Secretary; and one of the girls, "cursed with a brain and good looks," harbours a fantasy of being a female astronaut.
Daniel Buckley, Richard Lowe, Lil' Chris & Aaron Sidwell. Photo: Francis Loney
For a new rock (no, it really isn’t rock; it’s a stage school hybrid of rock and Rent) musical, there’s an awful lot of wilting Salad Days about it, with career worries looming, a sci-fi convention opener to the second act, and parental pressure bearing down on bad boy Eddie (Stewart Clarke), heir to the new technology franchise.
Eddie, strutting sub-Teddy boy leader of the non-nerdy pack, ditches his girlfriend Leia (Charlotte Harwood) in pursuit of Holly (Eliza Hope Bennett) who is already committed to nerd-in-chief Michael Dork (Aaron Sidwell); Dork’s sidekicks include best friend Lucas (Richard Lowe), plump funny guy (Daniel Buckley) and super-nerd super-loser Francis (Rob Zombie lead singer Lil' Chris).
They, and the whole company in Steven Dexter’s production, are a cheerful, energetic bunch, and so well drilled in the ways of old-style Young Generation choreography by Nick Winston that merely watching them for two hours becomes physically exhausting.
The best moment is one of musical stillness, when true loves Dork and Holly sing the show's best number in the planetarium, designer Francis O'Connor’s stage (lit by Howard Harrison) a steel and starlight magical retreat for a song of reassurance, “We’re Not Alone.”
My two star gut reaction is only bumped along a little by the efficiency of the staging and the visual brilliance of pre-computer notebook and notepad scenery flipping picture boards for a row of bushes, for instance, concealing a line of badminton players in pristine white gymslips; or a bunch of hackers embodied in a corporate judo fight; or a whole bowling alley scene done by mime and a pack of cards.
The visual stamp and coherence of the design are as watertight as the show itself, which remains ever more grounded the more insistently everyone pretends it’s taking off.
Come on our hosted Whatsonstage.com Outing to Loserville on Wednesday 7 November 2012 and get your top-price ticket, a FREE programme and access to our EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A with the cast & creatives - plus signed posters for the first 25 early bookers - all for just £32.50! (Normally £45.00 for ticket alone)