I fooled a friend of mine into believing that This Is Not A Love Song, written by comedian Greg Fleet and now showing at The Blue Room, is a show about John Lydon of The Sex Pistols and Public Image Limited (P.I.L.). It was an easy thing to do, as the show’s title is presumably taken from the P.I.L. song of the same name. And coincidentally, one of the show’s co-stars, Shane Adamczak, recently played Mr. Rotten in Vicious Circles. But here he’s playing the younger version of Greg Fleet’s character James, who is taking a trip down memory lane through his relationship with girlfriend Soph, played by Tegan Mulvany.
Just to clarify before we take things any further, This Is Not A Love Song is not about John Lydon or Johnny Rotten, but it is about the arc of a relationship and the story of a breakup.
Tinkling away at the ever-so-slightly out of tune ivories in the corner of the stage is Michael De Grussa, who is well known in both musical and comedy circles; he’s been involved with The Big Hoo-Haa both as a player and as musician, and he gets around with his own band and music projects too. He’s the fourth Beatle in this modern-day drawing-room comedy with song. Although he doesn’t take part in the action as such, he’s there to lead the actors into song and occasionally sings out for them when they get too wrapped up in the emotional moment to sing for themselves. Greg Fleet is ‘old’ James (his word, not mine), and he’s the narrator and troubadour of his own story that gets told through vignettes and various pop songs that have contextual relevance to the story.
He’s like a ghost in his own old apartment, and he watches the young James and Soph fall in and out of love; he ponders where it all went wrong when it all seemed so right at the start. Eventually his own fourth wall breaks and he’s able to somehow communicate with Soph just in the moment when their relationship is crumbling. That’s the fun of theatre, you can expunge your own demons by pretending that you can turn back time. Thank god they didn’t sing that song.
Mulvany and Adamczak have a convivial, fraternal relationship on stage; Fleet’s narration is natural, unfettered, whereas the scene work between Mulvany and Adamczak came across slightly more mechanical and rote. This will probably relax some over the run, as these two skilled improvisers feel more comfortable living in this play’s world, in the moment. The set, designed by Christian Barratt, is quite a bit more elaborate than we’re used to seeing at The Blue Room, at least in the paint department – three walls are painted to look like the interior of a small apartment where James and Soph live and share their record collection that serves as the entry point into their story.
Eventually Soph ends up mothering the stunted, stoner man-child James, and once that pattern has set in, there’s no going back to something less awkward and fun. Old James realises the error of his ways, and although he is apologetic and remorseful, he has an attitude of resignation towards the turn of events. He understands that he can’t change things, and that the folly and near-sightedness of youth is responsible for many bad choices and bad behaviours in life. Fleet’s attitude about the past is sober, 20/20, and mostly unsentimental until sometimes a little un-ironic feeling comes through when he breaks into song. But more than that, he’s playfully philosophical about it all, which is an easy perspective to relate to.
This show is a trip down memory lane for audiences too, as more than one of us was moved to sing along quietly under our breaths with the performers. Couldn’t help myself when they snuck in David Bowie’s “Kooks.” I’m sure everyone will hear at least one song in the show that reminds them of that girl, or that guy, the one that got away, the one that still haunts our memory…