Two households, both alike in dignity. In fair Verona, where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge break to new mutiny. Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. Replace Verona with Westminster and you could have the tag line for Nicked. This isn’t Shakespeare, though, but a new musical looking at Deputy PM Nick Clegg’s rise to power and his campaign for voting reform.
You have to hand it to the HighTide festival team; they couldn’t be more topical with this, the centrepiece of their 5th Festival. With the result of the AV referendum less than 24 hours old, the results have already been incorporated into the show. One does have to think, however, does this ultra-topicality limit the shelf life of this piece? In the fast- moving world of political manoeuvring, will the story have moved on by the time Nicked would want to move onto a longer run?
The show itself is very much a tale of two halves. Act one looks at the formation of the Coalition Government and Clegg’s role of Kingmaker. It’s not always pretty and the piece certainly does little to improve public opinion of MPs, showing them as calculating and plotting for their own advancement. The second act, heavily shaped this week to reflect the latest results, follows first year in power and the move towards the AV vote.
It is the second act that is more engaging as we begin to see some of the human impact of policy but, although there are some touching moments; a powerful staging of the student fees protests, the resignation of David Laws and the impact on Clegg himself of AV defeat, the overall impact of the show is somewhat less successful.
While Rouge Noveua (aka Natalia Shepherd)’s music does offer a fresh and contemporary addition to the musical theatre genre, there is not enough melodic variation, especially in the first act. Richard Marsh’s rhyming book and lyrics also jar. For every clever rhyme (Vince Cable’s ‘I’m MP for Twickenham, got tap shoes I click in ‘em) is a cringe worthy counterpoint (the rhyme for Big Ben is ‘bic pen’). While this technique does lend a contemporary rap feel to the text, it distracts more than it adds.
There are some strong performances here that do aid enjoyment. Jason Langley’s Clegg, Sam Hodges’ Cameron and Ross Green’s beatboxing George Osbourne all work well together. While never aiming for ‘lookalike’ status all manage to convey enough of the mannerisms of their counterparts to make them believable. Holding the whole narrative together, though, is a powerful performance from Amy Booth-Steel as Britannia. Journeying from conquering inspiration to a charred and battered dream, this is a Britannia that not only leads her people but also the voice and conscious of her people.
Nicked is a valiant attempt to produce something new and topical in musical theatre but in its present form seems more like an overlong. Work on the repetitive score and rhyming lyrics and at least half the 2 hour 45 running time and there may be a longer term future for this show.
Ultimately in a show about our current political state recommending major cuts seems strangely apt and full circle.
Photo: The Company in Nicked at HighTide. Photo by Bill Knight