The song cycle as a form is (as described to me recently by a friend) the archetypal calling card for a composer to have in their armoury and an apt avenue for songwriter Sam Thomas to string songs along the stream of a common thread. His most recent song cycle: No Limits, has a comfortably contemporaneous sound, derivative of the songwriters Scott Alan and Jonathan Reid Gealt, sung with vivacious verve by the convivial six-strong cast, which makes for a sweetly succinct hour.
Set against the backdrop of an engagement party, No Limits uses this point of departure for a slew of songs that explore “the stories of twenty-somethings discovering how to tackle life and become an adult”, with this cause for celebration being instead the catalyst for confessions. The opening song: “Scenic Route”, despite sharing startling motivic similarities with “Let It Go”, reveals the characters’ communal feeling of being behind everybody else: “seems like everybody’s getting married” or “being promoted” or “having babies”. Nothing new there, it’s a frequently visited – if not hackneyed – starting point. But the conclusions that these characters come to as solutions are, if not conflicting then platitudinous: “pull the brake, catch your breath”, and later on: “seize every moment to chase every thrill”. It could be contrived that this is a clever self-portrait of the overwhelming preponderance of feel-good bromides that saturate societal spheres, but this tact is endemic to every subsequent song.
“A sweetly succinct hour”
There are some comic moments of respite, but the conceits are unlikely. In “Two Weeks”, sung with aplomb by Megan Jobling, a girl leaves her job and flees to the city to pursue her theatrical ambitions after the heavy-handed gropes of customers, advocating both that we don’t stand our ground in the face of conflict, and, worse, that an assault can prompt us into the right decision. “Kinky” is a coquettish cordial reminding us that embracing our primal nature shouldn’t be forgotten (perhaps the jewel in this curate’s egg). Keisha Mowchenko’s voice soars in “Confessions of a Catfish”, the song of a girl who poses as a more attractive woman to catfish her neighbour (now boyfriend), propounding the notion that deceit and devotion are two sides of the same coin.
The dramatic crests and troughs that punctuate the piece give promise to the potential of Sam Thomas’ craftsmanship, but the Clinton card compendium is of little benefit to the songs that have the potential to prod further into the feelings of doubt and ambivalence that pervade the human condition. By the time the eponymous song rears its head, there is, despite the hiccups along the way, a take-away message of prevailing positivity:
“But I’ll march to the beat of my own drum
I’m finally throwing caution to the wind
I’m moving on, for once and for all
The highest climbs come after we fall.”
The sincerity of No Limits might be shrouded in its saccharine sentimentality, but it can be salvaged.
No Limits has now finished its run at the Hen and Chickens Theatre. More information about the production can be found here.
Image: Red Jay Theatre