Eugenius is a sprightly new musical with winning characters, a satisfying plot and great score. Combine this with a crisp band and charismatic cast and you’ve got yourself a treat of a show.
The 80s set story concerns geeky (not nerdy – they’re different, apparently) teenager Eugene who avoids homework, memories of his dead mother and, indeed, life by spending his time drawing somewhat derivative comic book characters and stories which are snapped up and duly mangled by Hollywood. But it transpires that his characters exist not only in his imagination and on a film set – but also in reality. Cue much fun and drama as the real characters meet their on-set alter egos. Eugene’s journey through this takes him to a place where he can be the hero of his own real-life story.
The plot also offers the opportunity for many digs at 80s pop culture and its casual sexism and homophobia. Indeed, the very fact that Eugene’s comic book leading lady is called ‘super hot lady’ allows us to feel so superior, seeing as how that sort of sexist attitude is no longer acceptable. But once the plot moves to super seedy Hollywood this also serves to bump neatly into the current wave of post Weinstein exploitation and question if things have really moved on as much as we think.
But this is taking the cultural and social history of the piece to a place where it doesn’t really want to be. This is a show that wants you to have fun and wants you to love it. And there are two big reasons why it delivers. First – the cast are just great. I’ve never really understood where a casting director fits into the creative mix, but whatever they do, Jim Arnold has certainly got it right with this company. Liam Forde is making his London stage debut as Eugene and brings warmth and humanity not only to his part but the whole show. Laura Baldwin comes straight from The Other Palace’s previous musical Big Fish to the part of his would-be girlfriend Janey, getting her teeth into a bigger part with some touching, and some belting, singing. His comedy sidekick friend Ferris is played in full-on scene stealing mode by Daniel Buckley. Cameron Blakely just oozes moral corruptness as Hollywood producer Lex, whilst Scott Paige camps it up as his put-upon assistant. I must also mention a brilliantly detailed performance by Ian Hughes as evil Lord Hector – taking to his purple body suit as if to the manor born.
The second reason this show delivers is the score. With no lazy falling back on a juke box of 80 hits, these new and original tunes nevertheless have an instant appeal. And in the intimate space of the 300 seat venue, with half the stage lights pointing at the audience, there’s no chance of escaping the energy and enthusiasm coming at you.
The show has behind it some serious Sci-Fi chops – Warwick Davis co-produces and brings his Star Wars mate Mark Hamill into things as the voice of Kevin the Robot. And the whole thing is top-and-tailed by Brian (Flash Gordon) Blessed’s instantly recognisable tones. The small stage at The Other Palace tests the imagination and ingenuity of both designer and director and between then Hannah Wolfe (set and costumes) and director Ian Talbot show that just because the theatre may be small, it doesn’t mean the show can’t be huge.