Fringe Online 2021
Stay Awake, Jake
Pearson Theatre Productions & Damien Tracey in association with S&S Theatre Production
Written by Tim Gilvin, directed by Grace Taylor with Music Director/keyboards Tamara Saringer with cellist Marta Tobar, Sound Design James Chrichton, Casting Pearson Casting and Filming and Stream Design by Tom Grace. New Extension March 31st.
Tim Gilvin’s multi-award-winning Stay Awake, Jake is an enchanting road musical with vivid wrong turnings as one man races up-country for the birth of his son. This fifty-five-minute one-man musical with Ahmed Hamad is simply-staged with musicians, Hamad centred with a mic.
It’s a different kind of one-person musical too. Smoothly directed by Grace Taylor there’s music direction/keyboards by Tamara Saringer with cellist Marta Tobar, giving a tight envelope intimately suited for small-hours driving and reflection. And we’re in almost total darkness with no set as such. James Chrichton’s sound design focuses the intimacy, with filming and stream design by Tom Grace highlighting Hamad softly enough not to disturb this.
Jake’s a comic artist in South London who derives frantically during the stretch of a single night to Carlisle to save his relationship. Snappy lyrics and a kind of speech-song motoring into full-blown arias morph though a narrative that’s end-to-end singing, underpinned by keyboard with emotive oomph from the cello’s bass-line.
We get the memorable title song ‘Stay Awake, Jake’, anxiously upbeat, followed by a far more intimate traversal where the lyric itself keeps breaking up and traversing ground where the piano winks like cat’s eyes and the cello supplies a rumble. Hamad does sotto voce hurt with crystalline diction and an ability to sound intimate even when louder and more emphatic.
Jake’s left his South London home where he holds down a job in updating content he no longer cares for, just to get by, having lost his cool at his partner Sophia’s resentment; whereupon she’s returned north. To have a baby. Sophia needs time alone though Jake understandably thinks this might be terminal. So he’s driving, fast and furious with himself.
Riffing memories, much of the singing after the initial peroration is as quiet as travelling in the dark without radio. Jake doesn’t rely on it but in his ‘C’mon, stay awake’ he scrolls back to meeting student photographer Sophia, from a northern but more prosperous background (this divide’s quite a trend, present in Before After too, also playing at Southwark). ‘How About Tomorrow?’ is the upbeat song where Sophia’s eager refrain speeds us to a sudden screech and the way Gilvin abruptly jerks the narrative mid-lyric to the present as he pulls into an M6 cafe.
It’s the pianistic evocativeness of the score entwined with the cello that mark not only transitions but an instrumental commentary on this hushed, superficially laid-back work. It’s just under this twinkling figuration we get confessions of childhood, loneliness, inherited behaviours, class insecurity, motives for later trigger behaviour.
It’s not all been Sophia’s silence though. We learn calls she him last night, four weeks after leaving. He’s not handling it well. Hamad ripples through fear, simmering rejection ready to burst out which occasionally Jake does, with a through-line that holds Gilvin’s clean lyricism.
And Jake really hasn’t reckoned on paternity, it’s not him who wants a child. But Sophia’s the one he loves, so he drives to sun-up. ‘I’m scared of what I might be, I’m scared I might fail and let you down/I’m afraid of sleepless nights and a vomit-covered dressing gown’ is a fair sample of Gilvin’s gift for neat individual lyrics, full of the everyday but charged with feeling. ‘I might be useless but I guess if I’m afraid, that’s a start.’ The flight of this enchanter north meet his moral compass.
Stay Awake, Jake is enchantingly sad, with hope and uncertainty edging the way Hamad breaks singing line to speak. It’s a quietly magical psychology and Hamad’s sovereign in such a delivery with his tenor register often husky with low tessitura as he moves to speech mode. And the instrumental interludes partly designed to rest the singer give a further measure of musical distinction. It’s a short, perfectly formed vehicle, as it were. Perhaps low on dramatic twists that might rupture the small seething intensity of its heart, once you tune in, you’ll be held all the way to Carlisle.