Mates has found a friend in this critic

Review by Paul Nelson

NOW for something completely different, and if you think that is a hackneyed phrase think again, I strive not to use them.

What I am writing about is the most refreshing and original musical play I have seen in years.

With a tight book, lyrics that could send Tim Rice into a retreat in a monastery to think again, and staging that leaves nothing else to be desired, or so one would easily believe, Mates at the Landor Theatre is an evening that is not wasted. Or rather, it is a brilliant half of an evening.

It is in one act lasting seventy-five minutes, and packed into that short time is one of the most intriguing tales, with lovely songs and at least one great performance. Show me a new and current production in London that can boast two out of those three criteria.

Never maudlin, never cloying, the story is that of a judo champion struck down in a road accident and almost overnight becoming a paraplegic in a wheelchair.

What can he do for his beautiful wife, who uncomplainingly looks after him but has her young life ahead of her.

How can he relate to his best friend and sparring partner, both in the pub and in the ring?

What can be his next move when he suspects and finally becomes convinced that his friend and his wife are more than just associates.

In only seventy-five minutes, you can find out.

With a tiny band, two guitars and what this old fashioned thing can only call a tape, the music, frankly not up to the standard of the lyrics, does what it has to do in progressing the story.

The book doesn't actually need it. It would, on its own merit, be a brilliant radio play and under the right direction an equally brilliant short television play.

Plotted for just three actors, it boasts a marvellous performance from Chris Mann as Reg, the obsessive free spirit, now confined only to wherever his wheelchair can take him.

One longed for the opportunity to be given him where he could stand up and full throatily deliver at least one song that would, with him being upright, doubtless have brought the audience to its feet. That was not to be.

However, the finely tuned production delivers a real audience bonus which is a grand reward.

Whether or not the tunes are downbeat is a moot point, but as far as Miranda Wilford is concerned, playing Louise the wife, she might be assisted if before she started to attack her songs, she asked herself what would Ethel Merman have done with them. This is of course an extreme suggestion, but the fact is she brings nothing to the songs other than a true reading of them, and with all that emotion dripping around the place, it is not enough.

To a lesser degree, the same can be said of best friend Stu.

I have long been a champion of Broadway actors and have drawn odious comparisons, but the fact remains, the American approach has always been - yes, I can sing it, now I am going to sell it. On this side of the Atlantice the actor seems to be content to just sing it beautifully.

Under these conditions the home grown musical will continue to slumber.

In spite of my few misgivings I urge all the lucky people who are attracted to indielondon to believe me and go and enjoy a sincere evening of what may become, and this I fervently hope, the first trace of a new and energetic thrust in the British musical. GO.

Mates, Book and Lyrics by Laurence Roman, Music by AR Cox. Directed by George Roman, Scenic Artist, Prisoner MX2721, Fight Director Cpl Steve Child, Choreography Miranda Wilford. WITH Chris Mann (Reg), Miranda Wilford (Louise), Jake Davis (Stu). Presented at the Landor Theatre, 70 Landor Road, London SW9. 020 7737 7276.