Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Apartment 40C at the St James Studio
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Apartment 40C at the St James Studio
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Apartment 40C at the St James Studio
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08 Apr REVIEW: Apartment 40C at the St James Studio

Awarding a show the full five stars is a strange and wonderful thing. It’s normally done basking in the warm afterglow of an incredible show, something that’ll be spinning around your head for weeks to come, that’s made you feel so excited you need to tell the world about it. Despite often remarking on the inadequacy of stars in describing a show, giving something “full marks” transcends arbitrary boxes and means something else entirely. You’re almost endorsing it. Putting your reputation on the line and saying “these guys nailed it.” So whilst it’s anxiety-provoking enough to go back to see a show you enjoyed once, for fear that it might not live up to expectations, having dished out five stars last time around only serves to heighten this sensation. Especially in the knowledge that it’s been dramatically developed since then. What if you were wrong about it all along? What if the changes somehow rob the show of whatever magic it held? What if last time you found the bare-faced honesty to be like an ice-cold shower, providing relief from the warm, fuzzy, vomit-inducing December fare, and were therefore far too generous?

Suffice to say that when it comes to Apartment 40C, the anxiety was absolutely unwarranted, as Ray Rackham and Tom Lees have nurtured their overachieving infant of a show into a child than can run on its own. Standing firmly as a stunning piece of musical theatre, it remains a show that strums the heartstrings with an accomplished fervour, that soars and swoops and grasps at raw emotion.

Tom Lees’ score remains devastatingly beautiful, the score alone enough of a reason to visit the St James Studio. The opening instrumental is enough to send a tiny shiver down the spine, but it’s loveliness really comes into its own in the slower, more impassioned numbers like Midnight Hours. Aside from Lees’ music, Apartment 40C is so rare – so special – because of how real the characters are. Just like real people, they’re flawed, imperfect, neither “good guys” nor “bad guys,” but somewhere in the middle trying to make the “right” decisions and playing at being adults. Their depiction of the excited shoots of young love, through to an exhausted relationship with an aching chasm between everything that’s said, and everything that needs to be said, is pointed and precise. A gasp of fresh air, I see more of myself in Rackham’s characters than in any other production I’ve seen, almost certainly a reason for why I engage with it so strongly.

In developing Apartment 40C from December’s premiere at the London Theatre Workshop, Rackham and Lees have added four totally new songs and reworked a number of others, extending it into a full length show that benefits from far more comprehensive characterisation, adding a hint more colour to the shading of their stories outside the apartment. A coup to get almost all of the previous cast together, it’s clear how close-knit the cast and creatives are, seeming to pull together much like a multigenerational family would do, and in a way that’s evident on stage; though the incoming Johnjo Flynn doesn’t feel quite the perfect fit for Ed, a little too far on the “beefcake” side, and a bit overdramatic in his delivery – at times it comes across as cheesy and insincere, which jars with the otherwise relentlessly authentic feel of the production. But it is an absolute delight to see Lizzie Wofford return, a phenomenally talented singer and actress who has the remarkable ability to convey, convincingly, a woman with both strength and vulnerability – as well as a brilliantly dry sense of humour – in the standout performance of the show.

There is an inevitable tension arising when a show is simultaneously expanded and downsized – expanding in length and character development, but doing it on much smaller stage than the London Theatre Workshop. Downsizing the stage focuses the intensity, as the at-times-crowded stage serves as a visual reminder that the characters share the same, small apartment – but it also makes it difficult to create the bursts of energy that are needed to lift it, and the moments where young Eddie would have bounced about the place feel markedly absent. That said, the heightened interaction between the couples adds cohesion and clarity, and Rackham’s movement direction in the closing sequence is even more impactful in the smaller space.

Not so much “poignant” as “utterly gut-wrenching,” Apartment 40C is about real life love and loss, with an amazing authenticity and beauty about it. In my review of the premiere back in December, I said that it would be start of something very exciting, and I feel confident to say that that this is just the next step on a very long journey for Rackham, Lees and Apartment 40C.

For tickets and information:
Venue: St James Studio
Dates: 6th – 12th April 2015

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here