Review – Been So Long – The Young Vic

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Been So Long was a birthday present to me from J. I didn’t know too much about it other than what was written on the Young Vic’s website – as usual, I wanted the plot to surprise me. “Yvonne and Simone are cruising for action. Raymond stole Gil’s girl and now Gil wants to slice him up. Barney is just after a quiet life. When all five collide in a seedy London bar, their desires ignite in a guttural blast of cusses, laughs and unexpected romance.” It sounded pretty now and happening.

The audience was looking very different from the usual “musical” audience – way younger (mostly in their 20s), and, for once, substantially not white. (Contrast with my two Sondheim outings in the last six months. Whiteness: 98%. Not a good thing in my book and just pathetic given the racial diversity of London. Bad enough for it to happen at ballet.) I wondered as I walked in, what was it about this show that had so many people coming out to the theater?

My suspicion is that advance notice of the cast (specifically mentioned on the website were Omar, Cat Simmons and Arinze Kene) is what pulled in the punters. While the music was good, it was the power-packed performances of the singers that really made this show happen. The music was really interesting, too, going from soul ballads (at one moment) instantly into rap – a cross-style fusion that I think nicely represented what’s really going on today (especially since musicals with rap have been pretty thin on the ground). And the three backup singers left Priscilla’s angels in the cold. Gemma Knight Jones, Jenessa Qua, and Samantha-Antoinette Smith really had the pipes and built a shimmering wave of sound when they either created moments in the story (a kind of underlining to the action on stage) or fleshed out someone else’s song. I really, really enjoyed hearing them sing.

The characters and the plot are pretty much this (normally I won’t summarize but since this is a new show, I don’t think you can easily Google it up): in a bar owned by Barney (Omar Lyefook, painfully underutilized), two women (single mom Simone, played by Cat Simmons, and brash Yvonne, played by Naana Agyei-Ampadu, who performed all of the first act in the most ill-fitting yellow dress) are hanging out and talking about their lives. Yvonne wants to score, but the man she puts her moves on (arrogant Raymond, Arinze Kene) only has eyes for Simone. What he doesn’t know is that another man he stole a woman away from – Gil (Harry Hepple, a buttery tenor disguised as a psychotic, poor white boy rather like Eminem) – knows Raymond’s on the streets and is out for revenge.

Aaaand … well, the characters are actually a bit thin, and the script itself needs some pumping up. Simone and Yvonne spend too long talking about their lives, and the pace of the play really slumps. Gil is really on top of his character, even though he goes in really bizarre directions (the fight scene between him and Raymond is excellent and really tense), but Barney, who is apparently nursing a flame for Simone, just doesn’t get developed at all. It’s an utter waste – Omar Lyefook can really sing – and I think his role should have really been beefed up. As it was, he barely had more to do than the women’s trio. And Raymond, well, he’s really one dimensional – but is that what the playwright wanted? I think they could have done a lot more with this play and I feel rather like the talent was wasted on a bad script. Looking at that big sexy stage (by Dick Bird), I couldn’t help but think, I wished a better show was happening. I wished I’d been watching Cabaret. As the first act drifted into the second, I felt my energy flagging. The story kept not happening, and I hoped like hell I wasn’t expected to come back for an intermission, because I just didn’t care enough about what was going on on stage to be able to manage to come back and watch the characters flail around any more. (I snuck a peek at my program – £3 for the whole script – and realized they hadn’t had an interval between act 1 and act 2, so when the end came at 9:30 it was well and truly done.) Fortunately it all wrapped up rather nicely after the big fight between Gil and Raymond, and though I wanted to see more happen with the characters, the time they had to spend on stage had all been frittered away and I was glad enough to say goodbye. My thoughts: seriously re-write the script, eliminate the flabby dialogue, and this show might be able to move on. As is, I’m afraid it won’t be remounted at all, and that’s a shame, because I want to see these stories addressed and I want this kind of talent to get center stage in London. Ah well.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, June 11th. Been So Long continues through July 15th at the Young Vic.)

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3 Responses to “Review – Been So Long – The Young Vic”

  1. Joe C Says:

    Saw this show last night and think your review is spot-on. Not a huge fan of musicals myself (although I thought Spring Awakening was wonderful) and I found the music in this boring and cliched- Universe of Love- spare me! I remember reading the play on which this was originally based and thinking it was original and interesting. I have have to go back now and find out if I was deluding myself. Thank heavens we got discounted tickets as this was a real overblown under achiever. Pity. I like to support good work and think this was really misconceived. Great set. But this is a
    piece that my missus deftly said was like something Hackney youth theatre would sling together.

  2. Kitty Says:

    Interesting! Saw this last night and absolutely adored it. Crowd clapped individual lines, delivery was terrific and the singing just wonderful. I haven’t had that much fun at a show in ages, and neither, it seemed, had the audience. I wish people would see this instead of soulless funspongeing Sister Act.

    I got a copy of the script in the programme and reading it on the way home made clear how much really good direction made this show as good as it was.

    As for Yvonne’s dress – ill-fitting? Christ, I wish my wardrobe was that ill-fitting, girl looked hot!

    • webcowgirl Says:

      She did look very sexy, but I thought it was missing her natural waistline and didn’t sit right.

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