Review: The Season (Royal and Derngate)
It's often bemoaned that there's a dearth of new British musicals, with companies on this side of the Pond relying heavily on old favourites or imports from America, where the culture is geared much more obviously towards nurturing and developing fresh material.
I am delighted to report that The Season – a homegrown musical romcom that has been carefully crafted in a supportive environment across several years – proves that it ain't necessarily so. From humble beginnings in 2015 as a ten-minute new writing exercise, Jim Barnes and Kit Buchan's germ of an idea won the support of a succession of theatres, artistic directors and development organisations who backed it through several iterations – one of which bagged the prestigious Stiles and Drewe Award. Now it is unleashed upon a highly receptive audience as a fully-formed, charming and properly festive entertainment.
It's an uncomplicated, transparently likeable two-hander – a "snow-globe of a show", as Anthony Drewe puts it – about Dougal, a naive young British lad arriving in New York for the first time on Christmas Eve. He's received an unexpected invitation to the wedding of the father he's never met, a millionaire ex-pat who's marrying an American half his age. At the airport to meet him is the bride's sister Robin, all cynical New Yorker with a chip on her shoulder as big as the surrounding skyscrapers.
The journey of this odd couple from frosty beginnings to fireside cosiness may not be the most original in the world, and there's more than a hint of the gawky Love Actually character Colin Frizzell about Dougal. But what The Season lacks in narrative complexity it more than makes up for in warmth, wit and a sense of wonder.
In Tim Jackson's well-judged production, these qualities are allowed to shine through. Amy Jane Cook has designed a set that incorporates an ingenious revolve, some obligatory New York 'furniture' in the form of "Don't Walk" lights and subway signs, and a three-piece band perched high above the stage. It works really effectively and allows for subtle scene changes without major interruption.
At the heart of this heartwarming enterprise are two magnificent performances: Tori Allen-Martin plays the downtrodden Robin with just the right amount of edge, while Alex Cardall's Dougal is an infectious puppy of a boy, shamelessly smitten by the clichés of the Big Apple and with his glass permanently half full. Their chemistry is palpable, the singing voices rich and beautifully controlled, and they win over the most hardened Scrooges with a simple charm that never strays into mawkishness or sentimentality.
The script is full of sassy lines, the songs are accessible and intelligently put together, and there's more than one rapid-fire number that leaves you gasping at the clever construction and perfect delivery.
It may be still November, but 'tis undoubtedly The Season to make you jolly.