Payback The Musical
Paul Rayfield's new musical at the Riverside Studios will "make you laugh over and over again, for all the right reasons"
Set between the favelas of Rio and a vicious, sniping UK daytime talk show, at first Payback: The Musical sounds confused and confusing.
It's to writer Paul Rayfield's credit then that, barring a badly staged, incongruous and wholly unnecessary opening scene, the show is actually a lot of fun. There are plenty of cracking songs and hilarious lines that allow the slightly overcomplicated storyline to skip along, rather than drag.
So, plot. Skeevy TV host Matt Matthews (Matthew White, just the right side of vile) presents a Jeremy Kyle-esque show called Payback, where honesty brings just reward. Ratings are falling, and so producer Sam (a suitably sassy Sarah Earnshaw) is forced to try and spruce things up. "Lose any more Twitter followers and you're out," she snaps at Matthews, who barely seems to care. Producer Joe, meanwhile, wants the show to become more life-affirming, but Matthews isn't having any of it.
Meanwhile, in Rio, favela dweller Guillherme (James Yeoburn) and girlfriend Isabel (a versatile Katie Bernstein) are working on a way of raising money to allow them to keep their burgeoning café business. He thinks going on Payback to find his long-lost father is the solution (Facebook advertising led him to the show, apparently). Isabel isn't so sure.
While the cast is universally strong, the flexible, slick ensemble (Chris Kiely, Georgie Freeman, Douglas Rutter and Holly Brennan) are really excellent, making short work of Adam Murray's snappy choreography and Rayfield's harmonies. Brennan in particular stands out – although untrained and making her professional debut, her excellent voice, attention to detail and strong stage presence are those of a real talent.
Niggles? There are some terribly dodgy song titles ("Child of the Favelas" being a prime example), and it would be nice to see less emphasis on thumping the audience over the head with exposition (end of Act 1, I'm looking at you).
Having said that, Rayfield is clearly a gifted comic writer – even the final song leaves you in paroxysms, and it's safe to say that Payback: The Musical really will make you laugh over and over again, for all the right reasons.