Wednesday, 23 September 2009

THOUGHTS: “Over the Threshold”

The post-Edinburgh transfer season is upon us as all of the shows with decent reviews rush to get bookings before casts disperse, pockets run dry, and hype evaporates following awards and critical acclaim.

Over the Threshold is no exception: Originally participating in and subsequently developed by the Perfect Pitch, Threshold won MTM’s best score award at the Fringe this year and has so far a number of 4 and 5 star reviews. Needless to say, it’s only natural that Threshold would come to the big smoke, settling into the cozy Jermyn Street Theatre.

What I don’t, however, is WHY. As in “Why is there so much hype around this show?” This isn’t to say that Christopher Hamilton’s book and score are bad - because they’re not - but why are people getting so excited about it? Yes, Threshold is thoroughly competent and professional, but it never, well, goes over the threshold into becoming special. Or even interesting.

Over the course of 75 minutes, two couples fight, have accidental partner swaps, and deal with the aftermath. Scottish Tom and Kate are new in London, he’s an out of work actor and she gave it up to be a stable office manager. They fight about commitment, his low libido, and whether or not he should move into a real job.

I can’t even remember the other two characters’ names, other than the prattish Englishman in an overly shiny suit and his American wife who spews words of comfort and wisdom while keeping secrets of her own. None of the characters are particularly special, deep, or exciting, and the misunderstandings lack the gravity of serious drama and the humour of farce.

The score, sadly, is equally plain. All of the songs are pleasant, but if you think you’ve heard it before on your Jason Robert Brown or Scott Allan CDs, not to mention about 80% of the shows that go through Perfect Pitch in general, you wouldn’t be too far off. There’s little variation in the tunes, just a lot of introspective mid-tempo piano ballads that wouldn’t be helped by a fuller orchestra because there’s nowhere for them to go.

That said, I can’t fault the cast: all four members (whose names I don’t have down by role) are clearly talented and deliver the material as best they can, bringing what little life the show has, but they’re also encumbered by John Brant’s direction. Brant wants very much to be smart, but the limited abstract set (a few half-doorways and some clear chairs) instead inspired an internal logic which demands cast members wander through a maze of paths to go on and off stage as though the audience know the floorplans to the theoretical flats the characters occupy. It’s distracting and sloppy, realism be damned.

In short, I guess Over the Threshold won awards and got decent reviews for being bland and inoffensive: it’s hard to find fault with something that sits so squarely in the middle. I’m genuinely thrilled for the creatives - finding the money to get ANYTHING up at Edinburgh and back to London so quickly is a monumental task in and of itself - but this was really the best that was on offer at the Fringe?

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