ISABELLA JAKOBSEN reviews The Distance You Have Come at Cockpit Theatre.
In The Distance You Have Come, the stories of six different people have been put together from a selection of Scott Alan’s songs to create a new musical. Each of these interlocking tales takes a unique lens to the collision of relationships and mental health, grappling with the subjects of depression, rape, surrogacy, homosexuality and bisexuality (a pleasant surprise given common bi-erasure in the general media). Although this is a collection of songs previously written by Alan, under his direction and with the musical direction of Scott Morgan, it also flourishes as its own work, and deserves to be viewed as a dramatic piece, not just a performance of Alan’s back catalogue.
The set is strikingly beautiful, consisting of a park, featuring a bench and a swing intertwined with natural elements; on the stage floor there is a giant print of a veined leaf, and from the ceiling hangs the leafy top of a purple tree, speckled with little golden lightbulbs. The stage looks ethereal, and during the performance the colour of the tree changes, in accordance with the tone of a scene: during more cheerful scenes, it becomes a warm yellow, whereas more dramatic moments conjure a purple, the colour of magic and mystery. Indeed this tone is appropriate for the general fairy tale aura that is prominent throughout the play.
The music, of course, of vital importance, as the play harnesses the surreal quality that musicals always have to emphasise the disconnect between magic and reality. Alexia Khadime in particular shines through with an astoundingly powerful vocal performance, as does Jodie Jacobs with her comedic skill: one of the funniest moments is during the song ‘His Name’, when Jacobs’ character sings about being attracted to a male stranger in the park, and is immediately afterwards distracted by a woman walking by. The humour in the relatable awkwardness of the characters is utterly charming. This situation is later picked up in the equally heartwarming ‘Just a Walk’, a lovely duet between Anna and the same stranger.
However, the comedy in the show is juxtaposed with more tragic moments, and the tone changes can sometimes be sudden. This is especially unsettling after ‘His Name’, when the lighthearted tone swings to the other side of the spectrum for the song ‘Quicksand’, where a man is shoved and touched by a group of strangers in masks. This is extremely disturbing in light of the comedic scene immediately preceding it, and it is difficult to decide whether this adds to the power of the piece or takes away from it.
Scott Alan tries to negotiate the disappointments of real life with the promise of happy endings in fairy tales. Will our stories have happy endings? Paraphrasing a lyric from the opening song, when will we have our own ‘once upon a time’? When will our Prince Charming arrive? When will we get our big break? The song is full of clever references to countless fairy tales, but this does become repetitive. These questions are universal, and Alan’s story tries to answer them, perhaps not in the most original way possible. By the end, he doesn’t necessarily have precise answers to give us, but instead concludes with a hopeful message: to remember ‘the distance you have come’ – in other words, to remember to be proud of yourself for the obstacles you have overcome over the course of your life.
The Distance You Have Come is a work that skilfully plays with the idea of how fairy tales influence our perceptions of our futures. It also subverts the expectations of a typical Hollywood fairy tale, as from the opening song it declares: ‘This is not a fairy tale.’ Despite this noble cause, the subversion often feels like a clichéd rebellion and, in lieu of the necessary originality, is ultimately underwhelming.
The Distance You Have Come runs at Cockpit Theatre until 28th October. Find more information here.
Featured image courtesy of Darren Bell.