Edinburgh Fringe 2021
Welcome to the gig economy where making ends meet takes on a whole new meaning as chicken rights, money-grabbing landlords, worker’s entitlements and a variety of other topical, social issues are magically interwoven to produce a first class piece of musical theatre.
We’re outside Roy’s Rotisserie, an independent purveyor of fine chicken dishes where proprietor Felicity (Claire Lee Shenfield) does a good line in cheerless catering whilst campaigning against the plans of an international fast food chain to set up in the vacant premises opposite. Chewing the fat with her are Gemma (Ella Nevill) and Aiden (Dominic Carrington) both slaves to corporate monolith Eatsaroo, both continually scanning their phones waiting for the next “ping” to force them back on their bikes to add marginally to the poverty level incomes they’re able to generate from their precarious existence. Then along comes Daisy “Poshchops” (Emilia Grace), Eatsaroo’s “corporate cobblers” speaking communications junior executive, and life suddenly gets a bit more complicated for everyone.
Welcome to the gig economy folks, a world of zero hours contracts working for hire and fire conglomerates more concerned with profits than people. A world of algorithm driven job applications with the seemingly inevitable “on yer bike” auto-response of rejection. A world where loyalty has no apparent value. A world where making the rent payment is the difference between sleeping under a roof or sleeping rough.
This might seem to be a rather dystopian view of the average so-called “developed” economy yet it’s pretty close to reality for many people in the UK right now. But the combined talents of writer Joe Venable and musical director Ben James have somehow turned this rather dark subject matter into a musical that’s joyful, uplifting, full of catchy tunes that invite you to hum along and tap your feet to the beat whilst subtly getting across the message that we might need to do things a bit differently as we emerge from the pandemic, establish a “new normal” even.
Venable has created a complex yet convincing storyline through a number of carefully interwoven threads – a romantic triangle, “good guy / bad guy” juxtapositions, several moral dilemmas and a series of choices faced by each of the quartet of excellent performers meant that there was a bucket load of plot which came complete with a satisfying and rousing denouement.
Lyrics are spot on from start to finish, capturing the challenges faced by many young people looking to carve out a career, any career in the 21st century; “shiny lifestyle on a pocket money wage”, “take a job to buy a nicer coffin”, “in between existence” and “a world of gaps” being but a few examples that said so much with so few words.
James’ music was always supportive of the mood of the moment, ranging from rock through to ballad and onto rap via the odd bit of patter. Segues were slick and effective and a lot of thought had gone in to sourcing props that were easy to set and effective in deployment and included the most creative use of pizza boxes you’ll see at this year’s Fringe. Lighting accentuated the mood of the music and Molly Taylor’s tight direction and Ella Palmer’s sure footed choreography were both out of the top draw, keeping the show moving along at a clip and assailing our senses in what was an action packed fifty minutes of uplifting musical theatre.
But it’s the energy and musicality of the very talented quartet that marks out this show as a “must see”. Every note was pitch perfect in a whirlwind of a performance that ranged from the poignant to the positive and all points in between. And close harmonies were varied and perfect in what was a polished and very professional production.
FringeReview marked CUMTS SiX out as a show to watch back in 2017. Now look what happened to that – UK tour, West End sensation and now on Broadway. Could On Your Bike do likewise? I wouldn’t bet against it.