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Review: Sparks (Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh Festival)

A new musical about the brain's reaction to grief from Jessica Butcher and Anoushka Lucas

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
© The Other Richard

The brain's response to grief is not exactly an obvious subject for a musical but this two-hander, written by Jessica Butcher, with music by Anoushka Lucas, takes that and mingles it with the story of a disastrous love affair and comes up with something compelling and original.

In this production, produced by Michelle Barnette and Flipping the Bird in association with HighTide, both women appear on stage, Lucas behind the keyboards in a sparkly, midnight blue evening dress, Butcher in T-shirt and jeans. Lucas sings and Butcher talks but they are the same woman – one who longs to find love, get married and have a child because that is what her mother did.

It begins with a cracking song "Morning Comes Around" which combines a memorable tune with lyrics that combine the early-morning panic of waking so familiar to most people - "Can I put this jumper in the machine machine/ Does the lid of the yoghurt go into the recycling bin?" - with the more existential doubts afflicting the alone and the sad. "When will I fall in love?"

Gradually it emerges that the woman is lonely not simply because she can't find a man, but because her mother is a victim of MS. The sparks of the title are not only those between courting couples, but those of her mother's malfunctioning immune system.

Though well-performed and directed with assured use of a tiny space by Jessica Edwards, the script is occasionally clunky, not absolutely convincing in its balance of humour and emotion, and sometimes loses its grip on the audience. But the songs are terrific, catchy and melancholy, musically and lyrically adept. They develop the plot beautifully, particularly the haunting "Take Me For A Walk", which cleverly entwines a story with a description of the feeling of falling in love.

I came out humming, a sure sign of real promise in musical writers. These are women to watch.

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