Two strangers wake up from a drugged sleep, tied to each other and with no memory of the events of the previous few days. And then, they start singing…
Spinach isn’t quite a musical (there’s no spontaneous singing and dancing here) and it’s certainly not an opera. Instead, it’s a play where every line is sung, though the lines don’t often rhyme, there’s little in the way of verse-chorus-verse song-structure and regional accents and dialect are brought into play. It could be seen as a gimmick but if so, it’s a well executed one.
The plot is filled with flashbacks and the pieces of the mystery are only gradually revealed to the audience. In a way, it’s a bit like the Christopher Nolan film Memento – that is, if Guy Pearce had burst into song all the time.
It’s a tribute to the strength of Simon and Janine Waters’ writing that Spinach would work equally well as a straightforward dramatic piece. Yet the fact that the lines are sung gives the writing a hook; although there are only a couple of stand alone ‘songs’, the mood is cleverly judged: when the lead couple are good-naturedly bickering, it’s in the style of a jaunty score of a romantic comedy while a darker sound takes precedent when the central mystery is being explored.
The characters too are well sketched. Jenny Platt plays Kate, a compassionate, campaigning journalist who often takes homeless people in off the street, while David Hunter is Tom, a Mancunian jack-the-lad desperately searching for a girlfriend who finds himself caught up in a mysterious conspiracy. There’s not enough time for much back-story, but both leads are onstage almost the entire time and carry the piece brilliantly. Platt, probably still best known for her stint in Coronation Street, is particularly strong and really should be following her Weatherfield alumni onto bigger things.
Both Platt and Walker cope very well with the songs. They have strong voices (Hunter used to be the lead singer in moderately successful Manchester band Reemer) and they make for an attractive and funny couple. Credit should also be given to the supporting actors of Craig Whittaker and Liz Singleton, who as well as acting also play guitar, drums and saxophone at various points.
At times Janine Waters’ production can feel a bit rushed, especially in its climatic scene. Yet the build-up to the final twist is nicely handled and the script touches on a pleasingly wide range of subjects such as homelessness, the morals of pharmaceutical companies, and the sedentary nature of modern human life.
What flaws there are, are pretty minor – would the character of Tom, as played by a young, good-looking former pop star, really have been celibate for two years? As enjoyable as it is, the production by local company Waters Edge Arts is something of a stylistic hodgepodge – part thriller, part comedy, with songs – an approach that may well put off as many people as it appeals to, but its originality counts in its favour.