Taking to the Greenwich Theatre, another new British musical is in the spotlight: Are You as Nervous as I Am? combines a plethora of subjects to create an interesting blend from the 50s to 70s, through stardom and struggle. With a strong score and complementary cast, it’s unfortunate that some notable features tear away from what the piece could have been.
Being pushed to perform by her abusive, alcoholic mother, young Peggy beautifully shows off her talents at the local bar. Estranged from her sister, Janet, she destines to reconnect, and know why she escaped without her. Transitioning into adulthood, Peggy seeks out her lost family, leaving the Welsh countryside for the hustle and bustle of the capital, and finds herself on a pursuit for fame along the way. When chance encounters bring glamour, but don't always go to plan, will the dysfunctional cycle of maintaining herself and trying to build a family be broken, or just continue?
Katie Elin-Salt plays the lead role phenomenally well, heading the majority of the songs, as they easily fit with the concept of her messy pop star mystique as Peggy Starr. Her vocal control is unmatched, and demonstrates a solid capability in both acting and singing ability in every instance. The role of Janet is excellently adopted by Emma Thornett, of whom it feels as if we don't get to experience her full range, while being let down by the arguably unnecessary scripting to the character. Between herself and Katie, with the addition of Bill Ward as Bob on occasion, they exude emotion throughout, and skill while navigating unsettlement, as the girls attempt to find happiness, and understand where following their dreams is leading them. The characters seem to have a brewing potential for them to be richer in depth than they are, but are explored well considering this. The cast as a whole are a joy to watch.
Generally, the first act covers a good basis for the foundations of a new musical: it is the second where elements become to feel a little distasteful. Without spoilers, a cliffhanger moments before the interval has lasting impact that drives gasps from the audience in its reveal. However, this, alongside further developments, seem to present a somewhat ineffective representation of issues and topics that shouldn't be glossed over with abandon and lack of thought. Sadly, covering a selection of subjects too broad in a bizarre amount of depth minimises the impacted that fewer, more meaningful notions could have, pending a rewrite from Simon Spencer. It is crucial that this does not detract from the sheer talent of each and every performer involved in the production, and the creatives that have made it happen too.
Direction from Phoebe Barran uses the space well, and props emerge from the walls to ensure seamless manipulations of set. With gorgeous music by Leighton James House and lyrics by Shaun McKenna, the selection of tracks featured give ample taste of triumph in the music industry at the time, and neatly express how Peggy perceives the world as she shifts between recording studios and stages. There are many that you watch once, and would love to hear again, including the catchy pub song 'Doing The Best We Can', 'A Man Like Me', the act one finale, 'Something's Starting' and the powerful rendition of 'What the Hell Is It For?'.
Overall, Are You as Nervous as I Am? generates a mixed reception. On one hand, it has its strengths, but also significant pitfalls in the plot that make it lose marks. With hope, a revised version can implement changes that highlight the areas of success.