“Has all the hallmarks of a perfect summer musical…”
An electric chasm of electric energy, DULOG’s Be More Chill has all the hallmarks of a perfect summer musical. The heart warming but comedic coming of age story of Jeremy in his quest to ‘be more chill’ leaves the audience at points in surprise, stitches and sadness. Accompanied by its cutting edge sci-fi/pop soundtrack, this wonderful musical brings a refreshing twist to the Assembly Rooms stage.
Praise must immediately be given to the director Sarah Johnson, ably assisted by Thea Steadman Jones, whose passion for the project shines through every detailed directorial decision. From inventive blocking choices such as the ensemble involvement in ‘Guy that I’d Kinda be Into’, to allocating each ensemble member a clear character, their attention to detail elevates the show. Johnson’s vision is ingeniously brought to life by the production team, led by Emily Jupe, their incredible Production Manager. All technical components work in perfect cohesion with each other, with the sound, backstage, lighting and design team working together to create an impressively faultless technical display. Aliya Edwards’ lighting design is particularly impressive in creating the virtual world of the show, especially in numbers such as ‘Two Player Game’ and ‘The Smartphone Hour’. Just as effective to the overall success of the production is the set design. with impressive multi-use pieces such as the locker flats that converted into shoe racks and effective use of UV paint on the back wall to create an eye catching pixelated circuit board. Needless to say, the technical elements of this production bring it to the next level.
Living firmly up to the high vocal demands of contemporary musicals, Be More Chill is no easy sing range wise. However, under the masterful guidance of their musical director Freya Hartley, the whole cast excels vocally, without a single weak link. Every harmony is well balanced and tight, at moments creating impressive walls of sound in some of the ensemble numbers, a testament to Hartley’s musical directing talents and the hard work of the diligent cast. Hartley also leads the incredibly professional-sounding band, who, aided by the excellent sound mixing of Henry Flack, sound West End ready.
Xanthe Gibson’s choreography is a standout component in the fulfilment of the shows camp, sci-fi universe. All ensemble numbers are perfectly clean and stylised, with highlights including the possessed isolation based choreography in ‘The Pitiful Children’ and the high energy dance break in ‘Halloween.’ These challenge the impressive cast whilst showcasing her own creative dexterity.
Alongside this incredible creative and production team, it is the spectacularly talented cast that brings this show to life. It is nice to see a cast that brings together DULOG faces old and new, with such a great passion and enjoyment for their production that the audience couldn’t help but feel as excited as they are. The ensemble, each as their own characterised 80s high school archetype, carry the show with vibrant energy, making some of the ensemble numbers such as ‘Halloween’ and ‘Upgrade’ audience favourites. One ensemble standout is Jacob Vellucci as the drama teacher, whose unique but impressive comedic timing never fails to leave the audience in stitches. Another standout is the holy Trinity of Chloe, Brooke and Jenna, played by Isabel Askew, Cora Firth-Fletcher and Jessica Bell. The trio are arguably some of the strongest triple threats in the production, with their powerful vocals and hilarious characterisation and choreography making them natural foci of any number.
Casting Issey Dodd as The Squip was a masterful decision by the Creative Team. Her smouldering appearance complimented by her dry humour reinvents the persona of the role. Though there were a couple of moments tonight where her blasé, computerised characterisation resulted in some energy dips, Dodd commands the sage with ease, singing a role not originally for a female voice yet using this to her advantage to show her vast vocal dexterity. Also showing their vast vocal range is Charlie Moscrop as Rich, whose mind blowing falsetto moments in ‘The Squip Song’ are some of the most impressive parts of the show. Vivienne Shaw is the comedic standout of the show as Christine, with the confidence to commit to the perfect execution of the characters physical comedy, whilst equally leaning into her endearing side. Shaw is not afraid to put her own spin on the role, unlocking new moments of unexpected comedy within an already hilarious role, leaving the audience in awe of her comedic flair. She hits every emotional mark of Christine, a perfect testament to her range as an actor, whilst still playing to her strengths, attributing to the personal flair of her character. Her performance of ‘I Love Play Rehearsal’ is one of the highlights of the show, taking a fairy simple song, and creating a comedic masterpiece from it.
A similar comedic masterpiece comes from Samuel Kingsley Jones’s performance of Michael, that balances comedy and emotional vulnerability masterfully. Jones has the audience in the palm of his hand whenever he’s on stage, his youthful zeal creating instant audience empathy. His performance of ‘Michael in the Bathroom’ is impeccable; it is a privilege to watch Sam and notice that every word and impulse is meticulously considered though incredibly raw and truthful. You could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium tonight, giving the audience the emotional whiplash that the relentless energy of this show requires. His youthful optimism compliments Bede Capstick’s anxious restlessness, creating a believable and loveable chemistry between the two of them, which, aided by Gibson’s slick choreography, is perfectly showcased in their effervescent performance of ‘Two Player Game’. Another endearing moment is found between Michael and Jeremy’s Father, played by Tyler Smyth, in ‘The Pants Song’, creating a heart warming father figure relationship that shines through the song. Though the platonic chemistry of such relationships is extremely strong, there were moments where I feel the romantic chemistry between some of the pairs – though often required in fleeting interactions – is less convincing. Lastly, Bede Capstick as Jeremy is phenomenal, leading the cast with the talent, energy and professionalism that drove the show. He perfectly balances the youthful, restless, awkwardness of Jeremy with the role’s undulating comedy. His impressive vocal ability tackles the challenge of the super tenor role head on, with some jaw dropping notes all executed in the midst of intense choreography. There is no doubt that Capstick is the star of this show, though as an incredible team player, he bounces off his fellow cast mates whilst taking it upon himself to pick up the energy in any scene.
With rousing group numbers, a killer band and ingenious tech, this show boasts ensemble work and cohesiveness at its finest, with a professional approach to teamwork and collaboration in every aspect of the production that translates into a fully captivating, professional performance. I urge everyone to come and see this wonderful show and support this incredible cast, or risk missing out on one of the best nights of theatre Durham has to offer.
By Emily Phillips
Photo Credits: DULOG