February 5, 2014
In Her Eyes is a new musical by Toby Huelin. Produced and written by Oxford students, this is an acheivement in and of itself. I am always amazed at what it's possible to fit into the cozy Burton Taylor Studio theatre, around the back an in the roof space of the Oxford Playhouse. But last night, it was transformed into a close-quarters live musical stage complete with mini-orchestra (piano, guitar and cello).
The story revolves around Freddie - a girl in the 6th form who doesn't quite fit in with any of the existing groups (or should that be cliques) and is generally considered a bit odd by the rest of the year. Presumably because she doesn't fit into their exclusive, self-ordained sets. It is this theme of ostracism and the effects of exclusion on the psyche around which the plot revolves. Things do not go well for Freddie. She meets a boy - Jamie - who we never see, but is frequently alluded to, with whom she, apparently, fall head-over-heels in love. The well-voiced narrator takes us through the descent from budding whirl-wind romance, to questionable relationship to possible abuse. It is rather harrowing to watch, but the music helps to lift the subject matter into a space where it can be considered without feeling compelled to shut it out. Perhaps this is a key point within the piece - the effect that would have been created, had the audience merely shut away their interaction with the characters' progression - might very well have been similar to that portrayed within the show itself.
It has some good chorus pieces which are ably performed by the 'bad girls' who represent the rumour-mongering and hen-pecking peers with whom the responsibility for Freddie's eventual flight from the town is entirely placed. This is an area in which I felt the musical could benefit from a little finesse - I felt that the flight from the town was the start of another act - perhaps in a longer play it would be the interval - and I really felt interested in how the characters - both excluders and excludee - would deal with the consequences of their actions both upon themselves and each other.
This is also probably a result of the limited time each performance has within the BT each night, but I would be interested to see In Her Eyes - the Extended Version - were it ever to find a longer runtime!
The music is well-crafted, and suits the mood of the scenes. The 3-piece band (though with the addition of the cello it felt much more like a miniature orchestra) accompanied famously and the technical crew did a great job of setting the environment. If IHE EE were to be produced, a bigger band with perhaps some percussion could be awesome!
One of the things I really like about seeing shows in the BT is that you feel that you are watching half-classic, half-workshop theatre - it's really exciting as an audience member, as you feel that you are watching something that is continuing to grow, and you know it will grow in interesting and unexpected ways long after you leave the theatre. It feels like a privilege to be allowed to watch people who are discovering what they are capable of (which I find constantly amazing) and what they might be able to do next.
IHE is a very solid production which shows every sign of carrying on to new and (hopefully) extended heights, and it will be very interesting to see what else comes out of these very talented writers, composers, actors and producers.
Thank you BT! (It's good to talk!)