Having never been to the Burton Taylor before, I’ll admit to finding the intimacy of the place slightly confronting. Especially since for the opening night of Yesterday, a musical with an all-female cast (well, a cast of three) there were a fair few empty seats.
As the lights dimmed, I still had high hopes though. Yesterday had first come onto my radar when I’d seen a rehearsal video for Vulture Sessions of the cast singing ‘Here in this room’. It had promised exciting new student-written theatre and some great music. And at its best, this innovative production gave just that.
Whoever cast Yesterday got it bang on. The cast all have cracking voices and suited their roles perfectly. Yesterday tells the story of three women connected through their relationships with one man, the elusive Alex, whom we never meet. As his manically over-protective and unstable mother Julia, Georgia Figgis gave a powerful performance, able to switch from raging manipulation to expose a more fragile and cracked core beneath. Joanna Connolly plays Sally, the wife from America whose life is thrown into disarray when she meets Alex in a smoky Soho bar. Hated by Julia and conflicted both about her feelings for her husband and his feelings towards her, Connolly gave a moving and poignant performance. Last but not least, with a voice that could melt in your mouth, Jemimah Taylor perfectly captured the gradual corruption of youthful hope and innocence of Anna, a girl who becomes Alex’s lover.
This show came to life in the moments where all three women sang together. I wish there’d been more of them. The problem with Yesterday as a piece of innovative theatre is that it doesn’t quite hang together. Clearly there’s talent in the writing and music: just take a listen to ‘Here in this room’ which I hummed cheerfully as I cycled home. But it wasn’t all quite as good. Perhaps my main objection was the format itself. Described as a ‘musical in three halves’, Yesterday is really a series of songs, more often than not solos, connected by soft jazz. I wanted more interaction between the characters and more development: I wasn’t convinced I knew the characters at the end all that much better than when I met them at the beginning.
Undeniably lyricist Katie Hale and composer Stephen Hyde have some interesting and original ideas. The prominence of the drums, their rhythm a means to determine time and space in the intertwined timelines, was intriguing. With no set at all I liked the idea of defining place through the music. Certainly it captured the ebb and flow of London, but (and maybe I just lacked the imagination) I wasn’t quite transported to the capital.
Yesterday is an experiment that doesn’t quite deliver the perfect product. But it’s got a stellar cast and flashes of real potential and creativity from the writers. In fact, I think I’m still humming away…