A relatable tale of student relationships with some excellently acted scenes and music.
Lao Lee’s new musical Spaces is the story of two couples who are trying to deal with the struggles that modern day life can bring for students. Balancing university, work and personal relationships, as most students know, is not an easy feat, and Spaces focuses on four characters attempting to find this balance in a relatable tale of love, self-growth and choosing between personal interest and what is best for loved ones.
The audience is initially introduced to Clem (Yuey Zhang) and Eva (Caoimhe Bermingham), the couple whose seemingly perfect relationship rapidly deteriorates near the beginning and progressively worsens throughout. Their flatmate Millie (Imogen Hartley), whose ex-boyfriend Michael (Jamie Hardie) has returned after a year abroad, nervously gets ready for her date with the boy she has been pining over for the past year. The conversations in this scene are so typical of overthinking students, they often make the audience feel like they are looking at past conversations with friends, and enable us to laugh in hindsight at banal decisions that seem so important at the time, like when to reply to a text so as to not seem too desperate nor too uninterested.
The way in which the musical deals with issues relatable to students is its forte as well as its downfall. The issues the characters are dealing with are simple, realistic problems that any student might face, such as problems sustaining relationships throughout a year abroad or having different, stronger political viewpoints than friends. While this means the show is completely accessible to the student audience, it does sometimes feel a little too simplistic. This could easily be rectified if the deeper, more complex issues that are hinted at in the musical were further developed. Clem’s outburst about her and Eva’s parents leaving them could have been expanded upon at other points throughout the musical, so as to not seem so random. Also, Michael’s opening up about his drinking problem could have been referred to earlier than it was, and afterwards spoken about properly in more than one conversation, to add an extra layer to the overall plot. This speech from Michael was, it must be said, really excellently portrayed. For a difficult speech, it was completely believable, and the character’s development from when the audience first sees him (still nervous and jittery, but in an excited, endearing way), to when he feels in utter despair and distress about his personal situation, is clearly presented.
There is also excellent character development in the the ditzy, emotional Millie, who feels everything particularly deeply and focuses on minute details that other people would simply overlook. This was an excellent performance, with both the funny and sensitive aspects tackled well. Zhang and Bermingham accurately portray the frustrations felt in the relationship of their characters, showing their annoyance at the constant arguing, which is also somewhat felt by audience members when the bickering seems to be never ending. Without wanting to sound heartless, I did want the inevitable break up to hurry up in certain scenes.
The more light-hearted parts of the musical are great and have the audience laughing out loud. Particularly funny scenes are Michael and Millie’s awkward first date, with the audience cringing at the very believable awkwardness, and when Millie is trying to find the perfect place for a plant in the flat, before her flatmates tell her it is in fact fake. These comedic elements are light relief in between some well-acted, passionate speeches and deep conversations.
The fact that Lee both wrote and composed the music for Spaces is very impressive and many of the songs are very well written, allowing the actors to show off their vocal skills and fully demonstrate the emotion of the characters at the same time. My personal favourite is the emotional ‘Time’ that really pulls at the heartstrings.
Overall, the musical is a sign of the clear potential of all involved and the development of certain features could have taken this to a higher level of professionalism and interest for the audience.
Images: Mischa Frankl-Duval and Matt Ford