The tick, tick, ticking that can be heard at the beginning of Jonathan (RENT) Larson’s autobiographical musical is not some fault in the machinery, we are assured, but instead the palpable sound of one person’s mounting detonating anxiety. Well he gets that right at least; as a cavalcade of mundane melodies full of banal platitudes bombards the stage in the interminable Tick, Tick…Boom!, this person definitely feels like exploding.
Jon is a wannabe composer of rock musicals on the cusp of his 30th birthday, feeling the pressure of a pre mid-life crisis. Girlfriend Susan wants to move out of New York to a place with a washing machine, and best friend Michael has progressed to a desk job that comes with 3 Gucci belts and a BMW as standard. Should Jon jump on their bandwagon and sell out or stick to his artistic principles?
The main problem with Tick, Tick…Boom! is that whilst there are a few smiles to be raised in industry parodies it does very little to make you care about our hero’s impending cataclysmic decision; these people just aren’t engaging. Add that to Larson’s irritating 3rd person narrative, Damian Sandys’ mediocre direction and the frankly bizarre central performance of Ashley Campbell as Jon and you have a mess of an evening that not only bores but actively irritates.
Campbell seems like a man on the edge, his cartoonish persona teetering with wide eyed adrenalin from boyfriend to best friend, from canned laughter to grotesque emotional breakdown. His instability makes it impossible for Leanne Jones and Adam Rhys-Davies to settle into any kind of rhythm, leaving them as nothing but translucent ciphers to his neurotic juggernaut.
Whilst Jones delivers the strongest performance of the evening, showing at points real integrity in an otherwise superficial scenario, all of the cast seem to struggle with the vocals and Richard Bates’ musical direction feels increasingly frayed around the edges. On top of all this the sound levels are as off kilter as Campbell’s performance.
Rebecca Channon’s half baked white set lacks any sense of polish and it can’t be a good thing when the musical bars that surround the stage begin to take on a very different meaning after about 5 minutes in.
With a poor book, average score and way off key production, this Tick, Tick….Boom! is one bomb which has resolutely refused to go off; the damage it inflicts however, is none-the-less all too painful.
Tick, Tick…Boom! runs until 5th June at The Union Theatre.
Written for Totally Theatre.