I Love You, You’re Perfect. Now Change.
When I launched That Stagey Blog in 2019, I described it as my “love letter to theatre”. In recent years bloggers have risen to be accepted, by most, as important and as valued as established theatre critics.
Bloggers can often be criticised for “loving” theatre too much. But in a world where bullies now weaponise the internet, and social media becomes their tools, it’s kind to remember to spread a little love.
I Love You, You’re Perfect. Now Change is the first in-house production at the Old Joint Stock Theatre, from its new theatre manager and producer James Edge.
A song cycle that celebrates love, it has been perfectly selected by James Edge, who is the founding editor of successful theatre blog West End Best Friend, and someone who clearly loves theatre.
August is a typically difficult month to programme theatre, with many theatre makers and consumers migrating to Edinburgh Fringe for the summer, theatres else where can be known to struggle to bring audiences in.
Adding to this. Regional theatres can often struggle to compete or keep up with what London has to offer.
Despite this, James and his team have put everything they have in to this show, and it has clearly been made with love. I can honestly testify from my two trips to the Old Joint Stock Theatre this year, this small but bountiful theatre is a little gem that in places exceeds many of the theatre experiences I have had in London.
I Love You, You’re Perfect. Now Change. Joyously explores the intricate nature of love, in all its complexities. Just like love it can be chaotic, funny, and poignant with bold and brash scenes punctuated with some beautifully tender moments.
With music by Jimmy Roberts and lyrics by Joe DiPietro, who went on to win a Tony award for Memphis. I Love You, You’re Perfect. Now Change. remains the second longest running off Broadway show in history, since it’s debut in 1996 that ran for nearly 12 years. It first came to London in 1999, and was most recently revived at the Chiswick Playhouse in 2019, as well as an online production filmed at the London Coliseum during lockdowns in 2021.
Written to be traditionally performed by two men and two women, before gender became so fluid. Aspects of it might feel stereotypical and generalised, but the show set out to send up the often opposing perspective of love seen through male and female perspectives.
It might feel dated to present these tropes now but they were written in good humour and with heart, which this new production continues to offer. Some references have been updated to make them more current, as well as some character switches to now depict same sex coupling. But generally this production hasn’t tried to overhaul or rework its content, for which I applaud. Its themes remain universal and can resonate with anyone, making this a show that can appeal to everyone.
The equally billed cast consist of Megan Carole, Aidan Cutler, Sophie Kandola and Ollie Thomas Smith, and it would be impossible to single any of them out, as they each deliver impressive performances. Each balance nuance and comedy and are captivating to watch. Moments throughout the show feel as exhilarating as a tennis match as they pair off to present many of the sequences as duets.
The fab four excel as they competently interchange between characters to depict a series of vignettes and musical numbers designed to present an arc of romance. Scenes and songs depict excruciating first dates, through to marriage then break-ups, and finally love found later in life. The cast switch with ease to portray characters of varying ages and types.
The array of characters and changing scenes offers this show as a calling card showing off each of this talented quartet. Each have incredibly crisp diction and clarity, as well as beautiful tones and impressive vocal control.
The costume and design is effectively simple, using black as a base, with a passionate red as the accent colour brought out in props and accessories to effectively suggest each new character.
Having last seen this show performed by West End royalty Trevor Dion Nicholas, Brenda Edwards, and Oliver Tompsett and Alice Fearn, in the virtual production shot at the London Coliseum, I would honestly go as far as to say that I enjoyed this production at the Old Joint Stock Theatre more than the Coliseum’s.
There is something incredibly engaging and intimate about having performers sit amongst you and interact with you, as this cast have been directed to superb effect by Karl Steele. Sat next to one of the entrances, I had Ollie Thomas Smith ask me to tie his shoe lace, as other audience members were also borrowed at various points, giving us supporting roles.
Having seen Alice Fearn fill the Apollo Theatre in London as Elphaba in Wicked, to then recently see her in the much more intimate production of Then, Now & Next, at the Southwark Playhouse, I remember feeling a sense of connection to share that intimate space with her.
I felt the same again, here watching Aidan Cutler, who I last saw in the West End production of Back to the Future, in which he played Biff, and there is a cute little nod to this when in one scene Aidan comes on wearing a “Hill Valley” high school jersey.
There is something incredibly engaging and intimate about having performers sit amongst you and interact with you, as this cast have been directed to superb effect by Karl Steele. The cast seemed relaxed and completely comfortable being in such close proximity to the audience, seeming if anything to feed off their energy. Sat next to one of the entrances, I had Ollie Thomas Smith ask me to tie his shoe lace, as other audience members were also borrowed at various points, giving us supporting roles.
The musical direction by Nick Allen sets a perfect pace allowing the scenes to flow freely into each other without feeling rushed. Along with Karl Steele’s direction that allows each scene to breath and settle before moving on. The movement and choreography by Lizzie Robins blends nicely where needed, lifting the show’s more exorbitant sequences whilst becoming demure during its tender moments.
The simplistic but effective set design by Karl Steeke, feels justified with the seating neatly configured in traverse staging allowing the two banks of audience to face each other. It’s perhaps one of the first times I’ve seen a theatre of this size use this seating arrangement but it absolutely works. There’s something special about being able to watch people watching what you’re watching, that enhances the shared experience of theatre.
The production also succeeds by mic-ing the cast. Very often with theatres of this size, they can tend to save money by not using mics, at the detriment to the show. But here expense has not been spared, ensuring the clarity that the show deserves.
This was my second visit to the Old Joint Stock Theatre, having been earlier this year to watch Twats, a hilarious unauthorised presentation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work presented as drag.
The entire team make you feel welcomed and accommodated, as you ascend the corridors to the theatre, passing the collection of posters from past productions, mounted on the walls.
The Old Joint Stock is a beautiful and sparse victorian bank building, that is now the home it’s theatre and pub with an island bar below a glass-domed roof.
The theatre also has a large private bar for its patrons, which is unlike anything you would expect from a similar sized venue in London, that can often be found offering warm wine out of a broom cupboard. Here the Old Joint Stock boasts a fully stocked bar with specially curated cocktails each with their own “love” theme.
Nestled in Birmingham’s Temple Row, the Old Joint Stock is amongst the hustle and bustle of England’s second city. It’s often easy to forget how accessible Birmingham is from London in under 75 minutes on certain tramlines with prices as little as £11.50.
Although London can offer a huge variety of entertainment and theatre, it is clear that people are prepared to travel to see new and exciting theatre that they can’t find in London. Currently in Sheffield a new production of Miss Saigon has sell out audiences, whilst Leicester’s Curve Theatre continues to lead the regional theatre’s with its production of the Wizard of Oz now having transferred back to London’s Palladium.
I feel that the Old Joint Stock Theatre, will definitely grow as a destination venue to visit for any theatre lover. As I left, I was already planning a return trip to see I Love You, You’re Perfect. Now Change again before it closes its limited run on 12th August.
The theatre is looking ahead to three more in-house productions including Shiela's Island as well as many returning cabaret shows.
For more information visit: https://www.oldjointstock.co.uk/whats-on
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