Review: You Are Here (Southwark Playhouse)
Southwark Playhouse reopens with this four-hander musical
You Are Here is the quintessential example of theatre being made in the face of adversity. Announced before there was any real clarity on the roadmap to reopening, producers Grey Area Theatre Company were the definition of pragmatic – saying that if live audiences weren't allowed into their venue, they'd stream the entire run online. Restrictions or not (and thankfully, audiences are permitted!) the show would go on – for that, it can only be commended.
There's also a lot of really rather lovely stuff here – seeing Wendi Peters take on a role that doesn't involve being someone's forlorn mother (she was woefully underused in Big The Musical) is a wonderful novelty. Here she's Diana, a '60s housewife who decides, just as Neil Armstrong takes one small step for man, she'll hot-foot it out of her suburban household and go on her own adventure into the unknown.
Neil Bartram and Brian Hill's show, first seen across the Atlantic in 2018, hits all the right notes as we follow Diana's journey – wandering streets, fantasising about downtown romantic trysts between young lovers, or forming an attachment with local staff in hotels. Slowly she leaves her old life behind as she gets a glimpse at horizons beyond – which, after five months of intense lockdown (not to mention the nine before that), feels incredibly apt. Bartram's tunes echo all the right people – Sondheim (a true pioneer of the wistful wife number), Robert Brown, even some Tesori or Malloy – letting Diana's sadness ripple through most of the play.
But those notes are at times meandering, and the world Diana comes to live in is never painted with the sort of vivid hues that could make the musical shine. Instead, we reside in some ethereal, liminal space for the vast majority of the show, with Diana either overcome by mania or melancholy, paralysed by what waits for her at home. Questions linger like objects frozen in the vacuum of space: Catharsis comes late, as those astronauts touch back down on our planet after their moment among the stars.
That's not to say it isn't all well acted – Peters does a mighty job conveying every emotion under the sun, bringing out a particular power when, for the briefest of seconds, she stops to let the reality of her predicament set in. Beyond her though, most of the characters feel either underwritten or under-served – Phil Adéle does the bulk of the legwork in fleshing out other roles, at times chiming in as Diana's absent husband, while also playing tortured soldier Daniel, stoned and alone after his experiences at war.
Rebecca McKinnis (showstopping in Dear Evan Hansen and Everybody's Talking About Jamie) is given slightly too little to work with to shine, often having to sit at the back of the stage and observe Diana's antics from afar. The same is true for Jordan Frazier – you yearn to find out more about her role as maid Ruby, comparing her easy-going, fresh outlook on life with Diana's sedate surburban stagnancy.