Eugenius at the Turbine Theatre
Running to 28 May 2023
Snuggled under the railway arches just next to the iconic Battersea Power Station, the Turbine Theatre is playing host to Eugenius – a fun-time “Rise of the Geeks” musical by Ben Adams and Chris Wilkin.
The Cast of Eugenius – Eugenius The Musical – Photo Credit Pamela RaithBullied at school and misunderstood by his dad, Eugene’s only friends are fellow Geeks Janey and Feris.
Eugene dreams of becoming a professional cartoonist and is working on stories for his hero Tough Man and his heroine Super Hot Girl. Eugene is loosing heart until, out of the blue, Hollywood producers offer to turn his cartoons into a blockbuster movie.
A fairly standard plot you’d think! But just as they are starting to film the new blockbuster, the real Evil Lord Hector, comes to earth looking for the real Tough Man!
Eh? But I thought… Never mind: we all love a bit of Meta.
I’d seen a Pro Shot made of an earlier production of this now cult musical but getting up close and personal is always the best way to experience theatre. And you can’t get much more up-close and personal than at the Turbine Theatre Battersea.
Dining hall bust ups, dancing fish, talking robots, spaceships and all with loving references to the genre and to the 80’s. The cast of eleven give us all this and more: even Captain Kirk pops his head round the set door. AND we even get a live band squeezed in for good measure!
Yes it is very silly! But writers, Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins (book music and lyrics), obviously remember the 80’s with the great fondness that can only come from being about 6 years old when the decade ended (I’m the same with the 60’s)! But they have recreated the decade’s pop culture highlights and music with hilarious accuracy and much love. It is hard to believe that some of the songs are not cover versions of a power ballad you had forgotten, or a rock anthem from a movie you missed, they are so “of the moment”.
Hannah Chissick directs a young cast who play their roles with such honesty and joy that it is impossible not to fall in love with every single one of them.
Elliott Evans (Eugene) is the perfect fresh-faced high school geek (don’t worry Elliot, when you are a 60-something-year-old character actor playing Dr. Everett V. Scott in the 90th anniversary production of Rocky Horror you will remember with fondness the days when reviewers called you fresh-faced). Such is his focus is on his comic book characters, he is blind to the growing love of fellow geek Janey (played with excellent pace and judgement by Jaina Brock-Patel).
The trio of friends is completed by Feris (James Hameed). Whilst his two friends are plagued by teenage self-doubt, nothing so mundane will slow Feris down, as he uses all his mis-placed self confidence to woo any passing girl – from the girlfriend of the school bully to Hollywood movie stars.
With a fair amount of double casting, the rest of the cast each play several characters. With so many characters to squeeze in, it is lucky that none of them are particularly complex. But if you want complex, don’t go to a musical set in Hollywood about high school geeks, cartoon characters and aliens!
Thanks to Superman, no-one called Lex is ever going to be a goody, so right from the get-go Lara Denning doesn’t have to do much more than walk on stage to embody the Hollywood producer we all know to hate. But Lara Denning never “just walks on stage”. And so she sets the tone for the rest of the cast: these characters may be easy, but this excellent cast make sure they are done well, with the talent that they all undoubtedly have at their fingertips.
Rhys Taylor gets the evening started, with style and panache, as Space Diva. The song Tough Man, wonderfully introduces the cartoon characters from Eugene’s dreams and sets the tone for the night, but it is as Hollywood fixer and Production assistant, Theo Schlong, that Rhys is most accomplished and entertaining.
Dom Anderson effortlessly gives us four very different characters, benefiting from the shorthand of such globally recognisable characters: touching as Eugene’s struggling widower father, perfectly two-dimensional as Tough Man, hopeless as German muscleman/actor, Gerhardt and lanky school thug, Stock Jock.
But if you really want two dimensional then look no further than the glorious portrayal of Evil Lord Hector by Joseph Beach. Evil is even in his name! I mean what more do you need? It’s a tiny theatre and Beach’s cackling, gurning performance should have been far too over the top, so why we bought into it all I will never know, but we did – and happily so! I guess that, by his entrance (as him, not as cartoon him) if you haven’t got the joke by now, you never will.
The toughest job falls to Maddison Firth. Of all the character-types of the 80’s, dumb, blonde, poster girl is the one that sits least comfortably in a modern environment: especially in the way she is seen by the other characters, the reactions she elicits from them and her reaction to them. But in the end, as with any part, if you play it with honesty it doesn’t matter what is happening outside the auditorium doors: whether that pig is still flying above the power station chimney’s or whether it has floated away on the wind with some of the more uncomfortable values of the 80’s.
Andy Walton and Andrew Exeter’s excellent video installations also deserve a mention. On three sides of the stage the audience is given a visual feast too with galaxies, comic pages, Hollywood film studios, Grange Hill-esque cartoon school rooms and the afore mentioned talking robot.
The rest of the set is just a series of boxes used to create what ever is needed. In general this works well, but somehow there seemed to be a real dead spot in the centre of the stage. Whether it was the screen looming above or just the rake of the auditorium: standing scenes were fine, but the two scenes where characters sat in that area seemed less important.
Final note, As Eugenius boasts its own talking robot, I did think it right to ask Google’s Bard (which Theatre Breaks is testing this week) what it thought of the show: sadly it had to admit to not seeing the show, but it did say ” I am excited to see the 2023 version of Eugenius! because I have heard great things about the show”
Tickets from Eugenius | The Turbine Theatre
Theatre Breaks from https://www.theatrebreaks.co.uk/eugenius