MUTED – A New British Musical Review

The Bunker 7 December – 7 January,  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

The Bunker’s inaugural season continues with MUTED, a stunning show that has obviously been a labour of love for Tim Prottey-Jones, Sarah Henley and Tori Allen-Martin throughout its long genesis.

MUTED has a simple plot, told sparingly. Just as his band Lost Boy was on the brink of success, Michael’s overprotective alcoholic mother is killed in a hit and run accident. He hasn’t spoken since, only voicing his thoughts internally through his teenage self, and haunted by guilty memories of his mother, he isolates himself in his room under the care of his uncle. Michael’s former bandmate, Jake, sends his girlfriend Lauren – who used to be with Michael – to see Michael in the hope of getting him to play with the band again. Her visits reawaken hidden feelings for them both.

Having seen the showcase performance of MUTED in the spring, I was keen to see a theatrical production, and director Jamie Jackson has created a slick stylish show. The set is simple but full of meaning, all black, with a walkway around an island surrounded by water – Michael’s room. The water was puzzling at first, but becomes integral during later songs where it is part of the choreography and works incredibly well with the sensitive lighting effects. Prottey-Jones and Allen-Martin’s songs are fantastic and memorable – highly emotional but not soppily sentimental. There are no big show stopping numbers, and the songs don’t actually move the plot along, but they externalise the characters’ inner voices and feelings – most effectively through teenage Michael. That’s what MUTED is all about – NOBODY in the show can voice their true thoughts, and there are a lot of silences, interruptions and inane babbling from the damaged characters as they interact – all beautifully written by Sarah Henley. This is probably the quietest musical you’ll ever see. The characters only become eloquent through music, accompanied by repeated stylised “armography” that is strangely beautiful, especially in the low key but eminently satisfying closing number.

Tori Allen-Martin knows the part of lost girl Lauren inside out, and gives a stunningly natural and emotive performance. Helen Hobson is phenomenal as Michael’s mother, keeping her sympathetic even when she’s raging at her son. Jos Slovick’s Jake just needs a slap – his convincing performance makes you want to slap Lauren for staying with him! Edd Campbell Bird and David Leopold, as Teenage Michael and Michael, have a wonderful relationship on stage – the expressions and glances they share are the heart of the show – gorgeous. Mark Hawkins as Uncle Will makes his character much more than comic relief – his solo and final scene with Michael get right to the soul of the character. The whole cast have wonderful voices, and create a little piece of magic when they sing together.

MUTED is already a thing of wonder, but I don’t think the writers are done with it yet. I’m not sure if they’ll ever stop trying to make their baby perfect. As it is – this is a fantastic new musical that deserves a bigger audience.

Get down to the bunker and watch the best of British.