Written by Cambridge student Georgia Rawlins, Life With You is a touching musical following the progression of a relationship, from its fairytale beginnings to its heart-wrenching end. It is almost entirely sung-through, which speaks for both Rawlins’ musical prowess and her stamina, as she plays the backing music on the piano on stage through the duration of the musical.
Liam (Alex Hancock) and Beth (Louisa Chatterton) have a really sweet chemistry at the start – the room seems to buzz with their excitement with each other. By the end, after Liam’s paralysis caused by meningitis, everything has changed: Chatterton presents a shell of her character’s former self, her emotions muted as Beth tries not to show how much Liam is hurting her.
This highlights her one moment of joy when receiving a job offer, which turns out to be the end of their relationship. Hancock also shows his character’s progression from idealistic and naïve to embittered and unhappy through the emotion in his voice and facial expressions.
The cast of four work naturally together to bring these emotional highs and lows to fruition. Miguel Rivilla and Zoe Belcher multi-roll well, presenting different characters with minimal costume changes. Their singing is, of course, fantastic, but that goes for the whole cast. It was a good choice not to have microphones: they would have blasted out the small space and destroyed the show’s sense of intimacy.
The rest of the tech is also well-suited to the space. Bolin Dai’s set design is simple but effective: a homely atmosphere is created through photos and family props on the piano, which doubles as Beth and Liam’s mantlepiece. Lois Wright’s lighting also comes into play during the number ‘Inferno’, when Liam gets ill, in which the flashing blue and red lights represent Liam’s confusion while being reminiscent of ambulance lights.
Life With You’s strength lies in its ambiguity, and in particular, the ambiguous nature of Beth’s decision to leave Liam: in doing so, she is liberated from an unhealthy situation, but is reduced in her own eyes and the eyes of the world. Equally, Liam is devastated by her desertion, but it kick-starts his writing career, which is what he is publicly remembered and admired for.
This show also inspires an interesting discussion about the effect of traumatic events on a relationship. Beth remains adamant throughout the play that it was not Liam’s meningitis that caused their collapse, yet cracks start to occur after this illness. Perhaps these cracks were always there, and it took this sort of strain for the real nature of the relationship to be revealed.
This musical works on so many levels: as a discussion of living with a disability, of balancing a career and a family, or of the nature of love. Its mature treatment of these topics, combined with its poignancy and professionality in its performance, make it a rare find, both in student theatre and beyond.