‘You’ve been checked out on the tube, right? But how often do you actually DO anything about it? Never. Nobody speaks.’ Craig Adams is talking about what intrigues him in his new musical, Lift, which opens at the Soho Theatre this week.
The play is about eight characters from a mixture of backgrounds – a French teacher, a lap dancer, a busker – who share a 54 second lift journey at Covent Garden tube station. They say nothing to each other but the audience is treated to a song-cycle of the anxieties rushing through their heads as they make their journey. There is far more connecting them than they will ever know.
Adams began writing the show while training as an actor at Mountview Academy in 2005. It started as an abstract, devised piece inspired by an interest in lifeless objects. ‘Beds, chairs, lifts, all these things bare witness to so much that we will never know,’ he says in his energetic Mancunian accent. But over the seven years of writing the show his attitude towards the world has inevitably changed and it is clear that this has impacted on his intentions for the work. His motivation now lies in the people inside the Lift. He gives a shy laugh as he admits: ‘I’m not necessarily trying to change the world any more, I want to be truthful to the characters and their stories.’
Truthfulness to character and story is often proclaimed and rarely honoured by writers of musical theatre, but Adams is doing things a little differently. Despite forming a satisfying rhythm, very few of his lyrics actually rhyme; he says that was more concerned with finding the right words for his characters than tying his phrases in pretty poetry. In the wake of Alecky Blythe’s verbatim libretto for London Road at the National Theatre, Lift indicates the continuation of an exciting new trend in musical theatre.
Another reason that Adams’ work achieves a sense of realism uncommon in musical theatre is that it is heavily grounded in his own experience of London. When rehearsing the song ‘Top of the City’, Adams’ told the actor singing it that he wrote it after walking past the King Head in Islington one summer evening, hearing live jazz pouring out of the window and thinking what a wonderful place London is. It turned out that the actor was a musician who regularly gigged at the pub. There are hundreds of shows that pay homage to New York, but I can’t think of any that capture modern London. The angst, variety and self-consciousness of Lift’s characters may make it the first piece of musical theatre to do justice to the idiosyncrasies of the city.
Adams’ unapologetic enthusiasm for Lift is contagious. For him, the show is about how unrequited love and loss manifest themselves in our behaviour and consequently in our relationships. The confined space of the lift only serves to highlights the fact that the closer we get to each other the more afraid we become to speak. From the bloke who consoles himself by getting sucked off in saunas, to the woman whose love for her girlfriend is ‘Lost in Translation’, Adams has tapped into a culture that, for all its glorious freedoms, has left us ashamed to say what we feel.
All photos by Darren Bell. Lift is at Soho Theatre from 30th January to 24th February 2013. For tickets visit the Soho Theatre website.