By Hamish Stenning
Herringbone is Squablogic's triumphant return to the Sydney music theatre scene. Jay James-Moody shines as the star of this new one-man musical, and Benjamin Brockman's masterclass of design makes Herringbone a show not to miss.
The show, set in the Depression-era South, centres on George, an eight-year-old with a talent for acting. His parents send him to study with a mysterious acting teacher, Chicken. After commencing his studies, George is possessed by Chicken's deceased former acting partner, Lou, who has murderous intents.
James-Moody plays George and Lou, as well as Chicken, George's mother, father, and grandmother, and many more. His accents and physicality are varied and each character is distinct and clear. He is energetic and engaging, and, aside from a tendency to slide and sing "pop" vowels that would be more appropriate in Rent than a show set in the 1930s, is close to flawless.
Benjamin Brockman's lighting design is powerful without ever being distracting. It's simplicity is it's key, and every cue is timed to perfection by lighting operator/stage manager Christopher Starnawski. The show -- set and costume included -- simply looks fantastic.
Natalya Aynsely leads the three-piece band from her piano without putting a step wrong -- a mammoth achievement given the difficulty of the clever score and the awkwardness of the vocal cues.
It is a shame, therefore, that the musical itself is a little underwhelming. One-actor shows rely on either being very funny or extremely touching. While Herringbone is full of laugh-out-loud moments and James-Moody is fantastic, the show is not engaging enough. It suffers from only having one cast member and from only having a small orchestra (the writing of the music might well be clever but the orchestration is unambitious and thin). For a "horror" musical, there was very little horror, and so outside of giving a platform for James-Moody to shine, it is hard to justify Herringbone being a one-man show.
Further, there are problems with the structure and the story. Curiously, there is a full 30-minute set-up for the actual set-up to the main story. This badly stunts the flow of the show. Additionally, the main character George has few defining features outside of being an eight-year-old. He barely has a character arc and he is upstaged by every other character. These other characters are definitely individual and interesting, but for the majority of the show we focus in on a character that feels more incidental than central.
Do not be put off from seeing this show however. Its faults do not detract from the magnificent stagecraft or James-Moody's performance. This show is delighting audiences and is definitely worth seeing.
Photo Credit: David Hooley
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.