Review: What a song and dance

by Jaz Manville

I wasn't expecting to like Departures. The synopsis put me in mind of long afternoons of endless drama improvisations and I'd heard rumours that it was almost entirely sung through, neither of which thrilled me. 

Someone remind me I have no idea what I'm talking about most of the time. The idea that we are losing, or have lost, something of our common humanity by retreating into text messages and Tumblr and away from each other is far from new. However, this production makes a fresh plea that couldn't be further from the irate nagging of our grandparents.

The opening song is lyrically reminiscent of Rent's "Seasons of Love" and the show climbs from strength to strength from then onwards. A stifled professional, an eyebrow-watching immigrant, a Facebook loving mother and a Sherlock fanfic writing twentysomething are among the crowd kept on the platform by the slightly omniscient conductor and his imaginary cows. While managing to cover a vast array of issues – social housing, the problems of modern dating and fuel poverty – none ever feels rushed or patronising. The setting means sight lines can sometimes be a little difficult but there is always something interesting to see even if it isn't the proper focus. The song and dance is slick and self-deprecating and the complexity of the score is delivered seemingly effortlessly by the company and fantastic band. Lyrics are clever and devious, though sometimes a little difficult to hear, and the production never falls into the tropes of "traditional" musical theatre – no outstretched arms are slowly raised here!

The strength of the lyrics are the real lynchpin of this show. "(I'm Not Trying) To Objectify You" explores that niggling feeling that "romantic" and "stalker" are now somewhat interchangeable and riffs beautifully on the social baggage of gender equality. The new mother is also given a refreshing voice that both hates what her new baby has done to her life and loves every part of her child. Each story is recognisable but none feel clich├ęd, and that's the brilliance of this piece. 

Throughout, your expectations are met but it always happens in a slightly different fashion than you were expecting. The irate train guard maniacal interference builds beautifully to the, slightly overlong, finale and his listing of today's problems is necessary rather than grating. Donald Trump is a cunt and it needs to be said more often. So while this new musical says little new, it's definitely a new favourite of mine.

Photo credit: Giulia Delprato