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Review: Exposure the Musical (St James Theatre)

Mike Dyer's new musical needs some refocusing

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Mike Dyer's new musical takes the idea that a camera can steal a person's soul and mixes it into a tale of modern devilry and Faustian pacts. But never mind cameras, I'm wondering whether plays can have that effect too: it felt as though I might have lost a little bit of my own inner self after watching Exposure the Musical.

Though the cast are tight, kept right on the beat by director Phil Willmott, they can't do anything about the sheer bland nature of the story and the horribly baggy book. It's impossible to really care about what happens to protagonist Jimmy (David Albury who, inexplicably spends a lot of his time with his top off). He returns from photographing war with PTSD and is reunited with his famous musician friend Pandora. While she is busy pining after him and heading down the path to self-destruction, Jimmy discovers Tara, an exceptionally well-kempt homeless girl with upbeat banter and a penchant for reading. Meanwhile, Pandora's narcissist double-dealing PR man Miles Mason ingratiates himself with the young snapper and sets Jimmy an assignment over one night to photograph seven deadly sins being enacted in London.

The characterisation throughout Exposure is wafer thin. Jimmy seems a decent kind of bloke, so it does seem odd that he'd be oblivious to the hell his old friend Pandora is going through and dump her at the drop of a hat for the next girl who comes along. Pandora, played as well as could be by Niamh Perry, who has a beautiful voice, is there only to be the shapeless victim. The same goes for Jimmy's new friend, played by Natalie Anderson, whose story we barely get to scratch the surface of.

The book itself needs some sort of subtlety injection. The fact that Miles Mason – an expansive, enjoyable to watch Michael Greco – is the devil is clear from the first moment he arrives on stage in his red velvet jacket with a razor sharp grin. He takes Jimmy on a bizarre tour of seven deadly sins on the underground – stopping at Sloth Square and Covet Garden (geddit) – and it seems so entirely pointless. Surely we all know what all the sins are, yet they dutifully each pop up, personified and in a kooky costume. The whole night is a series of clunky set pieces delivering a bald message about sin, celebrity and temptation that we've heard and seen a thousand times before.

Timothy Bird's video and designs are probably the best things about Exposure, though they do distract from the very staid action onstage (which is peppered with energetic dance numbers choreographed by Lindon Barr). Famous images – photographs from the Vietnam war, of Marilyn, Diana and Elvis - are projected on huge panels, which are also used to project the streets and dingy clubs of London. The whole set feels like a camera shutter.

Dyer's songs are too long and there's not a hit track among them. More like emo pop songs than musical tunes, they are performed well by the strong cast but they fall flat. Dyer took 12 years to write this show, but he needs a few more to bring it into focus.

Exposure the Musical - Life Through a Lens runs at St James Theatre until 27 August.