Review: We've Got Each Other (Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh Festival)
A jukebox Bon Jovi musical comes to life at the Edinburgh Fringe
A spotlight comes down, a series of dancers appear. The familiar bass line of "Livin' On A Prayer" begins to throb, supplied by a seven-piece on-stage band. The air is electric, there is a sense of anticipation across the auditorium. The drums kick in – the ensemble begins to dance – it's spellbinding to watch, perfectly polished (choreographed by Bruno Tonioli). You can already safely say that this is a Bon Jovi jukebox musical guaranteed to bag every Olivier Award under the sun, a rip-roaring, special, enormous experience chock full of Americana and heartfelt romance.
It's a musical that follows Tommy, who used to work on the docks (the union's been on strike, he's down on his luck) who falls in love with Gina (who works a diner all day). Eventually, they get each other, and that's a lot for love. So they give it a shot. You can see where this is going.
Except (and apologies for reviewing a production that doesn't actually exist), We've Got Each Other isn't really that. It's one man, Paul O'Donnell, trying to make that show happen – alone. Imagine a low-budget cross between Bat Out of Hell and Strictly Ballroom performed solo, in a small upstairs venue, coming to you live from the West End (of east Edinburgh) with an Ikea lamp as a spotlight.
We've Got Each Other can sometimes feel like metatheatrical mayhem, and a lot of the show only works because O'Donnell makes for a wonderful narrator and guide. An awkward, sincere figure at first, shuffling around on his chair as he narrates each scene, the actor gradually becomes infectiously obsessed with his creation. He blocks every character, speaks every line and provides samples of the singing and dancing ("I'm a triple threat", he brags) in an epic tale of romance and betrayal that end with a surreally magnificent curtain call for all the non-existent actors.
We've Got Each Other may be a reference to lyrics from that well-known Bon Jovi song, but it's also at the very heart of why the piece works, why, perhaps, all theatre works. O'Donnell's creation highlights the loving, caring bond that can not only exist between individuals but also between performer and audience. The two rely on one another. Being in the theatre, full of wonder and intrinsic imagination, is basically living on a prayer. It takes collective belief.
The piece could, perhaps, have delved further into O'Donnell's own personal motivations to flesh out his character, but that doesn't stop this being a must-see for musical theatre fans and late-night fringe audiences alike: a warm, charming show that makes for a neat and well-meaning hour's watch.