‘Blue Workers’ does for techies what ‘A Chorus Line’ did for the ensemble – and boy, did they do it well. With book and lyrics by Jonathan Powell and music by Lily Blundell with Georgia Rawlins, this show is a blast from start to finish, with barely a minute to breathe between laughs.
This comedy musical follows a tech team as they try to pull together a show for a director who consistently confounds them with vague metaphorical but also literal but kind of rhetorical instructions. The jokes are spot on, caricaturing the various roles with such scathing accuracy your sides will split. The show knows it’s audience: the techies of Cambridge, but the masterful comedic writing from Powell, combined with the utterly electric performances from the cast, makes the topic feel universal; of course there are in-jokes, including a shout-out to myself as a reviewer (which I’m assured was improvised), but what the comedy of ‘Blue Workers’ fundamentally rests on is these larger-than-life types, which require no prior knowledge for the audience to laugh at and root for.
The cast were absolutely impeccable, with not a weak voice between them, and some absolutely spot-on performances. Charlotte Dargan and Jonathan Black drive the piece, as the TD, Robin, and the Producer, Alex, respectively; their dynamic perfectly encapsulates the complex and sometimes messy politics backstage at the ADC, and though there’s romantic tensions, I was delighted to see that this didn’t take over. Another stand out was Iona Rogan’s performance as Tony, the Director; Rogan perfectly encapsulated the abstract and confusing way directors can be with tech, getting some of the biggest laughs of the show and finding a great balance between speaking in her ridiculously pretentious accent and still delivering some belting notes.
I could write at length at the sheer talent of every single cast member, so I will try and keep this short: Lily Kemp as Val the Costume Designer simply had to walk on stage to make me laugh, with her wonderfully sweet obsession with ears. Christian Longstaff as Kyle the LD had some corkers and perhaps the most memorable lyric in the show “I like lights!” with some fantastically exaggerated facial expressions to boot. Jamie Ellis as Frankie the Assistant Director was wonderful as the forever put-down and forgotten second fiddle to Rogan, along with an amazingly strong voice, really killing it in his song about going to the pub. Joseph Lucas as Will Fairchild, the Welfare Contact, was simply marvellous, delivering some of the best lines as he narrates the show, and a wonderful satirical song on how Welfare in Cam is often just handing out biscuits. Georgia Greig as Paige Turner, the SM who really wants to be a writer, delivers a fantastic performance, with some of the funniest miming with a spanner I’ve ever seen. Mahon Hughes’ role of the sound designer locked in a room for weeks on end was fantastic, and it was great to see such a well-known techie take to the stage. Finally, Kitty Ford’s performance as Charlie, the zen actor and antagonising older sister to Alex, was the perfect send-up of so many actors in Cambridge, delivered with such commitment.
I was particularly impressed by the range of vocal styles and ranges Blundell was able to incorporate into the score – from Black’s baritone/bass, to Ford’s impressive more classical style, it was wonderful to hear voices which are less common in Musical Theatre. Overall Blundell and Rawlins’ music is insanely good, with many catchy numbers and homages to some well-known musicals. The band’s involvement in the plot was inspired and it was brilliant to watch them on stage having as much fun as the actors were. With it being first night there was clearly some adjusting to do on allowing for laughter/cheering from the audience, and there were one or two moments where the singer’s delivery was slightly muffled, but this really didn’t draw away from the excellence of the production overall. After all, I’d rather be drowned out by applause than booing.
The set was excellent – a simple red curtain, decorated with a beautiful array of lights by Mahon Hughes. The flying ladder, wrapped in lights, was particularly amazing. It’s only fitting for the techie musical to have some of the most stunning tech I’ve seen in Cambridge. The choreography (Imogen Woods-Wilford) and direction (Mia Grant) was generally incredibly dynamic, and really succeeded at keeping the momentum of the show the whole way through.
My one real grumble was the longer run time, coming in at about 1hr 35, which is partly because of the late show slot and partly because I don’t think anyone on the team could have predicted the amount of laughter they would have to account for.
In all, “Blue Workers” is a masterpiece of student writing, and all I have to say is: when is the cast recording coming out? (Please, I beg.)
“Blue Workers” by Jonathan Powell and Lily Blundell is on in the ADC at 11pm until the 6th May. Tickets can be bought here: https://www.adctheatre.com/whats-on/musical/blue-workers-a-backstage-musical-extravaganza/