Thursday 24th January 2019 at Harrogate Theatre.
Written and conceived by Elizabeth Carter and Directed by Jonathan O’Boyle, Between Us is a one woman show starring Carter as three varied women who all have one thing in common: terrible love lives and desire for better.
Elizabeth is our central character. She’s a busy actress struggling to self-assess, even with the help of a web-based therapist. Steph provides our highbrow businesswoman slowly realising the man she’s shackled herself to, complete with house and pup, is not exactly what she’s been dreaming of. Vicky is the free spirit and would-be alter-ego of both: lively, rough around the edges and winningly unfiltered when it comes to her rocky road with men.
I’d have liked to see a little more of Vicky if I’m honest, but the show as it stands has some nice variety through this trio of disparate characters.
Between Us is an amalgamation of Carter’s own frustrations stemming from life mid-twenties filled with the demands of modern life, influences from chinwags with friends and a general urge to comment on the obsession with finding fulfilment in one way or another. A screen dominates the stage (adorned with Hollywood style lights) and onto this are projected snippets from Elizabeth’s diary. We also hear audio of women talking about their hopes for the future; these are the ladies who lunch in Elizabeth’s circle and they have one thing on the brain: to settle down or not to settle down?
Now, while the first half of this new musical looks at modern life for modern women in the age of casual dating and endlessly high expectations, the latter half begins to explore a whole different territory. Useless slimy men who dominate the narratives early on swiftly take a backseat and Elizabeth turns to an altogether different kind of bloke to attempt to find herself.
There’s a duality in this element in that she explores faith as a result of discord in a relationship but constructs the exploration as self-driven – whether the truth of that lies in the writing or the performance or somewhere in between is anyone’s guess.
Music and Lyrics are by Josef Pitura-Riley, who is also responsible for projection design along with being Musical Director and taking charge of the keys throughout. While studio spaces do lack the luxuries of larger theatre spaces in terms of musical sights and sounds, Carter beautifully adapts to the space, ensuring that vocals don’t over-fill the room while also delivering the songs with great emotion.
Featuring eleven songs across 80 minutes, the music is nicely embedded as emotional commentary rather than an element to drive narrative, something which seems perfectly suited to the style of the piece as a whole.
The best of the bunch when it comes to songs are Time Flies and Maybe There’s Something More which stand out both vocally and lyrically. Musical cliches are nestling in a fair few songs but that’s to be expected considering the existential subject matter; finding love, happiness and yourself is a journey which inevitably leads to a song or two feeling a little Disney-familiar.
There’s some nice comedy too, primarily through a sassy tannoy announcer (Stephanie Hackett) with whom Elizabeth must wrestle every time a development appears. Yes, the Geordie accent once more proves itself a winner and a charmer the way only Northern accents can. The other strong source of comedy is of course the comic relief character Vicky, though each character gets to land a fair few comic one liners.
Carter gives a tireless performance. It’s a fast-paced, non-stop show which only really finds a stillness towards the last twenty minutes when Elizabeth has her epiphany. Best of all for me was watching Carter’s masterful half-played scenes. Every interaction is of course one sided; Skype Calls, coffees, drinks in the local bar and strained phone calls force Carter to engage us in would-be frustrating situations of only ever getting half of an exchange. She consequently taps into that special kind of comedy that can be derived from such dynamics.
Her reactions are perfectly timed and full of meaning – plenty enough to fill the gaps for us. Even if we never really get the full story, we at least get to grips with the various torments being thrown Elizabeth’s way, be they comic or troubling.
Does Elizabeth finally find what she’s looking for in the end? Apparently. And in a world of aspirations diluted by internet interference, it’s nice to see someone find something wholesome outside of the ‘new norms’ to give them contentment.
Between Us is Co produced by Musical Theatre Network and Mercury Musicals Development in association with Theatre Royal Stratford East. It plays at Harrogate Theatre until 26th January 2019 and you can find tickets here.