Theatre1 is a relatively new production team who works to bring professional standard contemporary musicals to the Stafford audience. I am pleased to say that their latest offering, I Love You Because by Ryan Cunningham and Joshua Salzman not only fulfils this brief in spectacular fashion but also has as much heart as the precocious cast has talent.
I Love You Because is a modern day musical adaptation of Pride and Prejudice where the traditional gender roles have been flipped on their head. It starts with lovesick poet Austin Bennet (Sam Parton) going off to meet his girlfriend Catherine but discovers she has cheated on him. Heartbroken he resorts to going on a blind date (arranged on a Jewish dating site) with his commitment-phobic brother Jeff (Sam Simkin) where they meet best friends Marcey and Diana (Sarah Russell and Alex Smith). Marcy is recently getting over a 2-year relationship and Diana is in a perpetual cycle of monogamy. After a less than auspicious start, Diana and Jeff begin a casual yet strictly undefined relationship, and Marcey takes on Austin as a kind of project to help him win back Catherine.
On the face of it, Marcey and Austin are as different as chalk and cheap wine from a box. However, whilst Marcey derides Austin for living a regimented life, she has her own set of “rules” which she has to adhere to following her break up, even at the expense of her true feelings. In a scene mirroring one of the central tenets of Pride and Prejudice, Marcey overcomes her reservations to declare she loves him anyway. This isn’t good enough for Austin however, and he leaves her. As the plot develops we find out whether Jeff can get over his commitment issues, and whether Austin and Marcey can get over their seemingly irreconcilable differences and find happiness.
Rarely will you see a show where you care so much about the characters. Sam Parton’s Austin is wonderfully awkward and every one of his mannerisms is as precise as every one of his meticulously pressed shirts. It was a wonderful piece of acting – both hilarious and heartwarming in equal measure. Opposite him is Sarah Russell. Her performance is deeply human and her beautiful vocals were as effortless and free as Marcey’s spirit. Together, they made a wonderful pair and the whole audience were rooting for them from start to finish.
Jeff is a superb character to play and Sam Simkin did the job brilliantly. His were the loudest and rudest of moments, yet even his tiniest facial expression had the audience in stitches. He gave a masterclass in comic timing, as well as a spectacular array of Donald Trump shirts. Alex Smith was the perfect complement as Diana – world weary a yet secretly craving someone to keep her safe. Together they were simply adorable.
Special mention goes to Hannah Morris and Max Birkin who both played multiple roles, no easy thing, but both shone as the local bar keepers, or therapists who encourage you to drink, and had a couple of great numbers on their own.
The staging was wonderfully simple and yet brought the story to life, especially the clever use of the projector. The band were also on point and were perfectly balanced with the cast to produce a wonderfully rich sound all the way through. Some of harmonies were just stunning.
The beating heart of this show is the relationships which we can all relate to, brilliantly portrayed by a wonderful cast of young actors. Get yourself down to the MET at Stafford’s Gatehouse and see this superlative production.
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