EFR - Reviews of Lillia the Musical

Lillia the Musical

Thu 4th – Sat 20th August 2011

reviews

Fen Greatley

at 09:11 on 7th Aug 2011

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Lillia is a wonderfully conceived new musical created by Stephanie Jayne Amies as a final-year university music project, but one which has the potential to endure. The only problem is that, concerning itself with such an uncool issue as mental health, it may be swerved in future: I hope not.

With Lillia (Vicky Grace Low) a lone figure in white besides the ominous lab coat, the others all shadows in theatre blacks, the sharp among us recognise instantly the nature of the protagonist's unfurling issues: Lilla's schizophrenic, or at least has Multiple Personality Disorder. This musical handles the thorny area commendably, with sensitivity, but not kid gloves. Its only slight weakness is a patronising overeager just-in-case-you-hadn't-guessed explanation of everything towards the end.

The piece hardly bears describing as a musical; for quite a while it starts off as popera, before Mya's (Liberty Buckland) more soulful interjections, since none of the songs would stand alone outside this context, all being used to inform and move the plot, rather than us. This is absolutely fine, only a couple of them are boring and too long in duration, rendering themselves unmemorable.

Several songs have extraneous harmony lines, which prove counterproductive – less is definitely more here. There is some clever use of music, with silence occasionally disrupted by discordant humming from the nameless chorus, who look dispassionately on.

As for the performance proper, it disappointed. While this is an amateur production, it was abominably acted - partly due to the script – mixing questionable overfamiliarity with wavery meekness. Tuning was a real issue and the men were far too often flat. For most of the piece the voices did not blend well at all in ensemble numbers (which did, however, work in some of the deliberately disconcerting, discordantly arranged numbers, such as “Am I Crazy?”).

There was no real star quality about this production and it was largely lacking in energy, although this did improve as the plot progressed and more inherent drama appeared. Buckland's Mya had been powerful, but faltered and threatened cracking near the top of her register. Low has easily the strongest voice, with outstanding ability but an unfortunately grating, unpleasant tone. She also fails to display any facial expression but a grimace, which becomes off-putting and is perhaps partly responsible for her contorted voice.

By the end, all voices singing in harmony sound beautifully layered and melodic for the closing number, and there's a great sense of unison that contrasts with the earlier fragmented atmosphere. Although it ends somewhat abruptly and there's no resolution of the situation (although not without some controversial and potentially dangerous attempts at religious reconciliation), the general sense conveyed is one that 'we're all in this together', so Lillia's problem is of less consequence.

If you like non-standard musical theatre that leaves its jazz hands and upbeat optimism at the door, do go and see this production for its daring innovation and great ambition – just don't expect an overwhelming or polished performance.

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Ramin Sabi

at 09:12 on 7th Aug 2011

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Southampton University Showstoppers’ new piece of musical theatre, written by Stephanie Amies as her music dissertation does have a lot to say for it. The show has some excellent music and an interesting concept that succeeds in engrossing the audience. However, the script and some of the cast leave some things to be desired.

The concept of three contrasting characters, Lillia, Mya and Aiden, who we soon realise are one and the same person, while not the most original of ideas is still explored well and in a new light. The exploration of this psychological difficulty evoked a considerable emotional reaction towards the end. This was aided by the solid direction of Jeremy McCabe that makes good use of the small space and an ensemble permanently on-stage; the lack of distinct choreography was probably a wise move. The main draw for the play is Amies’ music, which at certain moments is outstanding, including an array of complex harmonies and interlocking melodies that the evidently well-trained musical ensemble maintains well. Liberty Buckland who plays Mya was a stand-out performer with a beautiful singing voice and captivating stage presence.

There were some aspects that let the production down: the dialogue in the script was not to the highest standard and it made some of the acting come off pretty badly. It seems quite clear that much of the cast are singers before they are actors. While the central cast were strong, certain members of the supporting cast were often wooden at times, giving little impression that they believed what they were saying (although some of this may be down to the dialogue). If more effort were spent on making the dialogue more realistic and less patronising to the audience at times (some of the plot was over-explained) then it would improve the calibre of the piece, which does have a high degree of potential. While the music was certainly very good, it could be appreciated more if there were a band or something more than the single piano over the sound-system (although, quite understandably, budgetary and space limitations make this a difficult thing to do). Furthermore there are moments when characters burst into song when it would have been more effective to remain in silence or talk through the scene so as to emphasise the music that is there elsewhere. As it is now the music flows almost directly from one motif to another, meaning it is difficult to distinguish or remember any of the songs that certainly would be worth remembering.

Despite the problems, the original work is certainly impressive and honestly engaging on a human level, especially towards the end. The quality of the music and the ability of the cast to perform that music alone makes the show enjoyable, but it has far to go before it can be considered an outstanding piece of theatre.

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