Instantaneous and hopeless infatuations. Everyone’s had one at some point. Whether it’s in a coffee shop, a bar, a supermarket or even a library, there will be a point (or several) in life at which the false charm and winning smile of the person behind the counter takes you off guard and you find yourself swimming in a pool of puppy eyed rapture. For a viewer who is merely concerned with seeing a good old romantic romp, this is where the meaning of ‘Café Nation’ ends. For the more skeptical audience, the new musical, written by Chris Bush with music by Ian McCluskey (‘Tony! The Blair Musical’) and directed by Alex Howarth, takes on capitalism, consumer culture and the essence of the coffee shop.
The show focuses around a philosophy PhD student (Will Bridges) who, with painful self-consciousness, begins a low risk, strategic campaign to woo the girl who serves him coffee every morning (Grace Osborn). Tactics involve: 1) Buying a loyalty card, 2) Having a regular order (whilst still taking 3 minutes to pick the muffin he’s going to have) and 3) Spending
every waking moment and lots of his money in the coffee shop. Bridges is awkwardly likeable; you sympathise with his predicament, laugh at his terrible jokes and admire his persistence. He has a strong voice and confidence with the audience (if not with his favourite barista) that is clearest in his solos about not being a revolutionary and having an existential crisis. There are some great scenes between him and Osborn, lots of which are very funny. However, Osborn is eclipsed by his singing as her voice isn’t strong enough to carry some of the tunes. Although she picks up around halfway through, for the first half of the show it’s very difficult to make out what she is saying. Despite this, there is strong chemistry between the two of them and the slow escalation of their relationship is heart-warming.
The songs are often hilarious and very memorable. Catchy choruses, clever rhymes and contemporary references also help to ease the audience into some of the show’s more philosophical messages. Is the coffee shop a purgatorial location, not quite Heaven or Hell, not quite home or work, universal across the world, selling us drinks to keep us going that little bit longer? Are those kind of thoughts making your head hurt? Then stick to the romance side of the show. Those kind of issues are far too large to be covered in 75 minutes alongside a love story. However, with their slightly tongue in cheek approach Chris Bush and Ian McCluskey take a different angle, one that might perhaps be the view of a disillusioned philosophy student. Aside from the main players, huge congratulation must be given to Alan Drever-Smith and Nicholas Chave who, as well as being fantastic musicians, provide comical backing support to the two main players. Sadly, being so subtle, it is often easy to miss.
‘Café Nation’ is a fun, enjoyable, light hearted spectacle and Howarth shows a lot of promise as a director. Though you’re unlikely to unearth any resounding revelations about consumer culture you might just be a little moved by the tale of unrequited, coffee fuelled love.
Have a look at the rest of the shows in Mountview Postgraduate Director’s season here: www.mountview.org.uk/shows/shows/postgraduate-directors.html or look at the rest of our reviews.