Been So Long ****

Been So Long is a surprising musical production, a tale of love, lust and longing set in a bar and told through relaxed language and soul music.

The plot involves a love pentagon.  Barman Barney longs for Simone, who just wants to hang out with pal Yvonne, who wants to pull Raymond, who three years ago stole Gil’s girl.  Gil’s drive for revenge sparks a chain of events that sees some of the characters pair off and other left alone.

It’s easy to pull the threads of this apart.  The ending is all but inevitable, none of the characters are convincingly fleshed out and major plot points and themes are meticulously spelled out in case you didn’t pick up on them the first three times they were hinted at.

And yet, the production is executed with such charm and energy, and each of the cast, the band and the three back-up singers (who stay onstage the entire time and all sing brilliantly), are so likable and well played that it is hard not to be affected.  It’s very funny, at times touching, and filled with interesting insights in the madness known as lust/love.

Writers Che Walker (book & lyrics) and Arthur Darvill (lyrics and music) have crafted a catchy musical that feels much more current and relevant than many modern original musicals.  Most of the music is fun and the lyrics are clever and, at times, poignant.  Walker also directed the production, bringing a raw energy to the story.

As for the ensemble, each performer sings and plays their character well.  Nice guy Barney is played by Omar Lyefook, who’s running commentary and silent presence during much of the love play is wonderfully stated, and his vocals are superb.  Arinze Kene certainly looks like a ‘player’ but handles himself in a way that you can understand why many women willingly enter into a fling.  Naana Agyei-Ampadu’s Yvonne and Cat Simmons’s Simone are very believable, both as friends and as women struggling with love.  And Harry Hepple’s Gil comes across well as the likable looser.

Some people seem immediately put off by musicals, which is a shame because when done right, the combination of song and story makes for a rather compelling theatrical event.  Been So Long may not have any perfect elements, but its combination of slick direction, impassioned performances and wonderful energy do in fact make for a fantastic theatrical production.

Originally written for Onstage Scotland.

Playing in Traverse 1 until August 30.  Contact the theatre for playing times.

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