“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is the ultimate impossible interview question. Do you go for the ambitious answer, or the humble one? Tell the truth, or make something up? And what if you just don’t really know where you want your life to go? Five years is a long time, after all – and there’s always the possibility that however set your plans are, something like a global pandemic could come along to derail them completely. (To hammer home this point, at the performance of From Here I attended, two cast members and the lighting operator had just been pinged to isolate, leaving the writers and the producer to step in and take their respective places.)
The impossible “five years” question is posed to each of the characters in Ben Barrow and Lucy Ireland’s excellent new musical From Here – and each has a different answer. The song-cycle tells a number of different stories about people at pivotal moments in their lives: making a new friend, falling in love, losing a parent, coping with mental health struggles… and asks whether it’s better to focus our efforts on getting the happy ending we’ve always wanted, or to be constantly on the lookout for something new – or perhaps something in between.
While the show doesn’t have a traditional plot – focusing on telling many short stories about many different people as opposed to one long one about a few – it does follow a relatively linear timeline, taking its characters from childhood, to leaving home, finding a career, getting married, having kids, and grappling with the ups and downs of adulthood as the years pass. This means that it has something for everyone, whichever stage of life we’re currently at. Sometimes the stories are funny – like when Person 3 (Andrew Patrick-Walker) declares his love for his co-worker, Person 1 (Grace Mouat) on a busy tube. Sometimes they’re heartwarming – like when Person 4 (Ben Barrow, covering for Aidan Harkins) takes Person 2 (Lucy Ireland, covering for Nicola Espallardo) back to where they had their first date, to ask a very important question. And sometimes they’re heartbreaking – Person 2 is a betrayed wife, Person 1 a bereaved daughter, Person 3 a man paralysed by fear of showing his true self to the person he loves. This patchwork of stories covers a broad spectrum of human emotion and experience, making it not just great entertainment but also incredibly relatable.
The score reflects the same variety of tone, with upbeat comedy numbers sitting comfortably alongside emotional ballads, and short passages of spoken word poetry interspersed among them. Like any musical, some of the songs are catchier than others, but there are certainly one or two you’ll find yourself humming the next day, and while the three-person band for this production (led by musical director Ian Oakley) do an amazing job, it’s easy to imagine the show and its score performed on a much larger scale.
With so many productions simply unable to continue due to company members being forced into isolation, it’s fortunate that From Here was in a position to draft in substitutes at the last minute, and the performance was able to go on. Life may not be how we imagined it just now, but it’s comforting to know that when we do finally get out of this mess, British musical theatre will be well represented.
From Here is at Chiswick Playhouse until 7th August.