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Review: Loserville, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, until July 14
IT began life as an album of storytelling songs by James Bourne’s post-Busted project, Son Of Dork, in 2005.
Now Welcome To Loserville is re-Bourne as a musical, co-written with theatre composer Elliot Davis, adding extra songs and a storyline set in 1971 in an American high school.
As highlighted in a three-page spread in the programme under the headline Leeds’ Musical Legacy, the West Yorkshire Playhouse has played its part in introducing shows to British audiences, from Shockheaded Peter to a re-worked Martin Guerre; a West End-bound Singin’ In The Rain to Bat Boy; Spend Spend Spend! to Carnival Messiah; The Go-Between to February’s Angus Thongs And Even More Snogging.
Loserville has most in common with the teen-queen romance, breathless energy and comic-book set of Mark Catley and Louise Rennison’s ’s Angus Thongs and it is entirely feasible that both shows could end up in London, albeit that this world premiere of Loserville requires some re-working to make it wholly Winnerville.
Welcome to Loserville, where Michael Dork (Aaron Sidwell, late of EastEnders) is a computer geek/binary boffin on the cusp of inventing “something that could change the world”, something now known as email, with the aid/hindrance of his Star Trek-loving fellow geek, Lucas (Richard Lowe).
Dork may be I.T., but the speccy teccy ain’t it with the girls, until boy meets even brighter girl, Holly Manson (the outstanding Eliza Hope Bennett), who wants to go far as the first female astronaut and has the mental tools to complete the “talking computer” invention.
As always in such stories, there’s a spanner in the works, in this case the idea-stealing, vain rich kid Eddie (Bradford pin-up Gareth Gates, whose self-deprecating performance is just right for a show that benefits hugely from not taking itself too seriously).
Whereas Angus Thongs was utterly English, Loserville may be made in Britain but its spirit as well as its setting is American, the stuff of Wheatus’s Teenage Dirtbag, Glee and High School Musical, and a dash of Return To The Forbidden Planet too.
Steven Dexter’s exuberant production has a brilliantly inventive design concept by Frances O’Connor: the cast members do their own credits sequence on enlarged notebooks, a motif that is then used for quick changes of scenery in front of the skeleton framework of computer wires and circuits.
Benches and stools – and even a mop – are made from oversized, rubbed-tipped pencils that add to the cartoon, tongue-in-cheek chutzpah of a show whose ebullient pop songs fall just short of being memorable.
Teenagers, in particular will love Loserville for its colourful characters, bright performances, sense of fantasy, sassy wit and awkward, gawky teen love, while cynicism-shunning adults will savour its relish for sending itself up.
Box office: 0113 213 7700.