The View Upstairs at Soho Theatre
Welcome to RuPaul’s Back To The Future Race. A time-travel-cum-ghost story, Max Vernon’s The View UpStairs is a frustrating experience, often cringe-worthy whilst telling a devastating, real-life tale of home, found families and fatal homophobia.
Fleeing the pressures of the New York scene, Wesley (Tyrone Huntley) – that most 2019 of professions: an influencer – buys a rundown bar in New Orleans, intending to turn it into the flagship store of his burgeoning brand. But thanks to a bit of unexplained timey-wimey spookiness, he finds himself suddenly conversing with the lounge’s former patrons, his modern experiences clashing with their 70s reality in a way that changes him and them alike. It’s basically Life on Mars Untucked.
Centred on one night in the UpStairs Lounge – the site of a tragic arson attack in 1973 – the musical indulges in a few too many caricatures and wavering Bayou accents. Wesley is maybe the production’s biggest problem. Huntley himself is game, enthusiastically going through the motions of the character’s arc. However, he is written terribly, an unbearably obnoxious stereotype of a millennial, constantly chatting about the ‘gram and his following. It’s as if Vernon has cobbled together the dialogue by skimming a thousand think pieces about the so-called selfie generation. With a lead figure so irritating, it can be difficult to invest in a journey that is already predictable from the off.
The score, also by Vernon, isn’t particularly memorable either; a blur of generic musical beats. At times it borders on dated, and not necessarily by design in order to reference the period it is set in. The group numbers, especially opener Some Kind of Paradise and Are You Listening, God?, do pop, and there are touching moments during some of the smaller songs. But it’s hardly going to be worming its way into your head as you try and sleep at night.
What the show does have going for it is charm and humour; a careful sense of history and what has and hasn’t changed; and real energetic direction from Jonathan O’Boyle. It also looks fantastic; the shabby glamour of Lee Newby’s bar immediately feels like part of the Soho Theatre furniture. That’s just about enough to carry The View UpStairs through its faults to a crushing, hopeful finale.
Photo: Darren Bell
The View Upstairs is at Soho Theatre from 18th July until 24th July 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.