Truth, Beauty and a Picture of You

Hayes Theatre, May 14

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Photo: Noni Carroll.

Yes, it’s another jukebox musical, and no it won’t dislodge Jersey Boys as the best of the dodgy genre. Yet Truth, Beauty and a Picture of You does contain the kernel of an entirely convincing show. The problem is that it’s currently the subplot.

Writer Alex Broun and songwriter Tim Freedman hatched the story to accommodate a hit-list of the latter’s songs (with his band the Whitlams), many of which lend themselves to the project, oozing character, context and a sense of place. They also boast engaging melodies and are keenly-enough crafted for the parts to hang together organically rather painstakingly.

But pre-existing songs don’t write a show for you, and in contriving a plot Broun and Freedman ran into the headwind of believing they needed a romance.

The basic premise involving members of an almost-successful rock band 20 years on is well-worn but effective, and Neil Gooding’s production is flecked with little verities, from milk-crate chairs to drinking VB. The scenes between the surviving members, Anton (Ian Stenlake) and Charlie (Scott Irwin), provide peaks of both writing and performance. For them the desolation of now proves a stronger drug than nostalgia for then, and their relationship see-saws between camaraderie and brotherly bitchiness.

Here was a potential musical into which the songs could slide without being shoehorned. Instead we get the contrived tale of Tom (an overwrought Ross Chisari) tracking down his dead father’s old band-mates, and in the process falling for Beatrice (Erica Lovell), with Toby Francis completing the compact cast. Alas truth becomes the first casualty, and the opportunity to create a musical devoid of cliche is lost.

The songs are admirably realised by the singers and a band directed by Andrew Warboys, via sound that mostly lets us hear the lyrics. James Browne’s design evokes Newtown pub rock, and squashes the action (and some of the musicians!) into tight little spaces. It’s a shame that the plot was not kept equally as tight.

Until June 1.