‘Lift’ (Stage 4) | Review By Hannah Cook

The daily commute. Like every other day, off the tube at Covent Garden, faces now familiar from relentless routine. For 54 seconds you stand cramped in a lift with 7 complete strangers, wondering who these passengers are. Why are they here? What are their secrets? Could they be unknowingly connected? Who do they love? What have they lost? You’re suddenly interrupted as the doors slide open, finally reaching the surface and you watch these familiar strangers melt back into their own little lives onto the streets of London. 

LIFT follows eight daily commuters of the London underground. Fueled by love, life and loss we watch the imagination of an underground Busker produce the unspoken secrets, unrealised connections and the hidden truths of the characters around him. 

Produced nearly a decade after the musical’s premiere, Stage 4 is delivering a production with a cast stacked with talent, striking lighting and compelling staging at the Basement Theatre at Nescol (29th-1st July 2022).

Andrew Sweeney playing the Busker, guides the audience through the complex storylines, keeping us grounded with effortless vocals and superb stage presence. Sweeney’s ability to allow the audience to follow his character’s imaginings while still remaining present on-stage with an attentive inwardness is impressive. Observing his characters as they wrestle with the weight of his woes, Sweeney holds the production together as its leading player admirably. 

Amy Lawrence brings a fascinating softness to the Secretary. The untold story of unrequited love with her boss, Lawrences serves us a wistful performance of “That Rainy Day” with delightfully delicate tones and profound emotion. Despite her lack of stage time, Lawrence portrays the Secretary as a delightfully compassionate and sometimes bashful young woman, holding her own against the leading man. Her onstage chemistry with the Busker leaves the audience hoping for a happy ending, and for her character’s love to finally be reciprocated. 

Mikey Stewart plays a compelling Ballet Dancer. Showing great versatility with the hilarious sexually explicit opening moments, to exposing the vulnerability of a boy closeted for the sake of his relationships with his family. Stewart’s talent to bounce off other actors, provides fiery dialogue within scenes with the Lap Dancer, and creates an emotional depth to the convoluted online relationship with the Bright Young Thing. 

Fiona Campbell is fantastic as the Lap Dancer. Campbell’s vocals deliver an unreal power to her performance, blowing the audience away with raw emotion and intensity with her “It’s Been A Year”. Whether grappling with the quick wit of the Ballet Dancer or acting as a sympathetic therapist for the French Teacher, Campbell shows great expression and a tragic fragility to the Lap Dancer that leaves the audience floored by her performance. 

Kenneth Lypka delivers an exceptional Bright Young Thing. A seemingly self-righteous man, concerned only with the world of business. Lypka flawlessly bats his dialogue up against Lawrence as his Secretary, carelessly ignorant of what she longs for, while neglecting his true feelings of the loss of his love. Lypka creates a callously smug BYT, making it all the more heart-breaking with his portrayal of “All About Her”. Offering the audience a surprising insight to his character. We see his somewhat comeuppance when he is catfished by the Ballet Dancer, only for the audience to find a lonely man en route to yet another tragic love.

Rebecca Morrice as the French Teacher is terrific. Performed by Morrice “Lost In Translation” is beautifully staged, and powerfully executed. A standout moment within the whole production. With incredible control of her voice, Morrice offers a hopeless lesbian lamenting of her love, a girlfriend disappearing off to Paris, and finding her only solace in talking to a Lap Dancer.

Ewan Bruce and Cara Sutherland pose as our dumb American Tourists and through the eyes of the Busker; online Avatars in a cybersex chatroom. Disguising the true faces of the writers, the BYT and the Ballet Dancer. Bruce and Sutherland work brilliantly as a double act, providing some comical absurd moments to the production. Bruce produces an almost dumbfounded Avatar, puppeteered by the BYT to appear “Tall, Dark and Handsome”. While Sutherland gives a promiscuous and sultry Avatar, described by the Ballet Dancer only as “Athletic and Wearing a Thong”. The pair add an interesting insight of how people interact online, in contrast to the lack of connections in the lift. 

From the beginning of the show, sound and lighting make an impact. The use of sound establishes the initial location of the production; the busy London Underground. Trains screeching, wheels grinding, rails vibrating and the barely understandable tannoy. Brian Gunnee once again does an expert job, as well as perfectly balancing the band and the cast in the modest studio theatre.

Lighting Design by Stuart Jack distinguishes reality to fantasy while highlighting key moments and enhances the mood onstage. Susan Begg’s set, simple yet effective, caters to the fleeting changes of the Busker’s imagination as it hops from one location to the next.

Directors, Yvonne Wheeler and Victoria Cowan have carefully staged this production,  allowing the audience to fall into a story, no matter how complex, and surrender to a sensational show (perfectly handled by Musical Directors; Gillian Forbes and Calum Runcie) with stunning harmonies, unique choreography and identifiable characters. 

Stage 4’s LIFT is packed with talent, fantastic characters and sumptuous harmonies. A wonderfully complex look into the lives of 8 complete strangers, with poignant moments of human connection, entangled secrets and pure vulnerability. With powerfully emotive ballads, fun group numbers and hilarious sex-fuelled gags, LIFT provides a unique addition to the shelf of Stage 4’s productions and is not one to miss. I hope you lose yourself in translations for an enjoyable time at the theatre.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

LIFT is running at The Basement Theatre, Nescol from the 29th-1st July 2022. Get your tickets here – https://ticketlab.co.uk/series/id/423/Stage-4-Theatre-Present-Lift#/

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