Losing a family member at an early age is always traumatic. For burgeoning teen pop sensation, Michael, in Sarah Henley’s new musical, Muted, it proves devastating, robbing him of his voice and his boy band of future success.
Muted has just opened at London’s latest performance space, The Bunker Theatre, built in a former car park underneath the Menier Chocoloate Factory, and it has compelling performances from its cast of six.
Whether the story stands up to scrutiny is another matter. The rather clichéd dialogue and relationship set-up is pure teen soap but the show is saved by the performances.
David Leopold, so good in the recent Park Theatre success, The Burnt Part Boys, here plays a haunted adult Michael who blames himself for his drunken mother’s untimely death in a road accident.
He spends most of the performance unable to articulate the anger and frustration he feels at being lost and alone without her guiding hand. Overwhelmed by his emotions Michael has withdrawn into himself, into what is known in the trade as selective mutism.
It is a fascinating character study and Leopold does extraordinarily well in emoting a young man wracked with pain but who is unable to verbally express his feelings.
His sense of isolation is nicely portrayed through Sarah Beaton’s set design which sees the boy alone in his bedroom, actually on an island platform surrounded by water. The only problem with it is the slip factor and most of the cast spend the show in their bare feet.
What ultimately saves him is the return into his life of his former girlfriend, Lauren, who, heaven forbid, we accuse her of being a groupie, but, since the tragedy, she has taken up with another bandmate, Michael’s former best mate, Jake.
Producer and actor Tori Allen-Martin, who co-wrote the songs for the musical, underplays the troubled Lauren and is never entirely believable as the ex-girlfriend who is desperate to make amends.
When David finally finds a way to communicate with her she doesn’t look in any way shocked or surprised even though the poor boy has been locked inside his own head for six years.
But I was impressed by Helen Hobson who makes a colossal impact as Michael’s mum. As you can guess, she’s not around for the entire show but she more than makes up for that with a superbly moving turn.
I think those of us who are, or have been parents, understand her anger and frustration when her son says he’s throwing up the chance of university to pursue his dreams of playing in a band (though we don’t all drown our sorrows in a bottle or three).
I can’t give too much away without spoiling the plot twists but frustration plays a huge part in the show.
Michael’s brother, Will (Mark Hawkins), is desperate to enjoy his own high-flying career without being tied down; the younger Mikey, played by Edd Campbell Bird, watches helplessly as his older self struggles to get through the heartache; and Jake (Jos Slovick) wants to get on with life without being held back by history.
Most of all Lauren wants to make everything better but feels unable to commit or admit her feelings.
Muted is intense, complex and compelling, so well done to everyone involved in the production. However, as Interval Productions is trumpeting the fact that it is a new, original, musical, it would have been good to reference the songs in the show’s programme.
And, a footnote to anyone planning to visit The Bunker, they have a no nuts policy. No, they don’t want to keep out the lunatic fringe who may want to see the show, but actual nuts. So, please, leave the cashews at home.
Muted runs until January 7.
Intense & powerfully acted Muted, at London’s Bunker Theatre, is an original musical that explores pain, heartache & isolation.