Review: Say Yes to Tess (Leeds Playhouse)

Friday 25th March 2022 at Leeds Playhouse (Bramall Rock Void).

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Tess Seddon writes and stars in this tongue-in-cheek new musical about a young lass who, with no prior political experience or interest at all, accidentally finds herself the candidate for the Yorkshire Party (yes, such a thing really happened). That lass is Seddon – and this is her musicalised take on that true story.

Seddon’s script captures the unexpected nature of events well through direct narration which guides us through events and peripheral driving forces along the way. Seddon’s performance is also one which illustrates the benefits of writer as performer; the story is so uniquely odd that perhaps only she could deliver the nervous novice energy, deadpan one liners and comic “wtf?!” looks as knowingly as she does.

When it comes to the musical elements of Tess’ story, things get interesting. Seddon herself may refrain from singing for much of the show, but her co-stars provide a good deal of musical commentary, giving the piece that quirky clashing realities feel; Tess is navigating a plodding existence but she’s surrounded by jazz hands and stagey grins.

Harry Blake directs and composes, contributing to hammy ditties which are ultimately a mixed bag. Some numbers offer clever lyrics poking fun at Twitter and various Yorkshire locations, while others feel less developed and don’t quite land their anticipated comedy. Most of all, the musical elements remind us that this is well and truly a show for Yorkshire folk, with quips heavily geared towards a shared humour as northerners and more specifically, as northerners with knowledge of Leeds and its immediate radius. Yukiko Masui’s movement direction adds plenty of energy and a good proportion of that hammy charm is down to dance sequences which make the most hammiest, tongue-in-cheek numbers of all – “Anyone Can Be a Politician” and “Twitter Storm” – all the more entertaining for the exaggerated physicality which suddenly invades the stage.

Star of this piece goes to Purvi Parmar who flips between a cantankerous nightmare housemate and a peppy, gung-ho Yorkshire Party die-hard with impressive energy. Kofi Dennis’ Ben is a lovable grinning Can-Do of the team who has dreams of his own that he’s clearly living through newbie Tess. Andrew Whitehead’s Kev on the other hand represents the slightly older generation, full of good intentions but stuck in his ways and full of hot air. Completing the line up is Jamie Noar who is a quiet presence, primarily sitting at his keyboard but also neatly doubling as Sacha, Tess’ comically aloof, long-distance “casual” beau.

Rüta Irbïte’s set is a highlight in its multi-functionality and creative approach to keeping the frequent segues between various settings and small scenes pacy and visually engaging. Four curtained cubicles (think dressing rooms) on wheels allow our characters to covertly move between them and reappear along the row to pop out of “houses” or “venue corridors” as imagination requires – the power of the implied is well catered for by set here. Costume carries similar charm in conjuring “Yorkshire folk” with gentle jibes; a flat cap here, a puppy-themed fleece there, and you’ve got yourself some Yorkshire loyalists ready to represent the folk Westminster fools hardly register as existing…

Everything here is rooted in a sense of fun and while the show doesn’t lean on cutting sarcasm as such, there’s a heavy dose of irony and a Peep Show-style emphasis on Tess’ comic reactions to the madness surrounding her. It’s a little on the lengthy side considering the material available and in places it feels overly concerned with some of those peripheral details, but this is a pleasingly playful evening of entertainment. If you enjoy a good pun and a show rooted in affectionate micky-taking, get yourself along to see Tess and the gang.

Say Yes to Tess is a TheatreState production in association with Leeds Playhouse. It plays Leeds Playhouse until April 2nd 2022 and you can find your tickets here.

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