A couple of weeks ago I found myself in the Theatre Café on Shaftesbury Avenue on a double Sunny day, awaiting a low-key preview of the new production of ‘I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change’ – a perennial Off-Broadway favourite, that was due to return to London directed by Kirk Jameson, and starring Julie Atherton, Gina Beck, Samuel Holmes & Simon Lipkin.
I’d become aware of Julie (& hence the show) courtesy of Sunny Afternoon, of course – having missed the chance to see her in ‘Shock Treatment’, I was determined to get to this new production. The performance and Q&A in the Theatre Café certainly whet my appetite!
The show itself is a kind of revue based around relationships; it’s a combination of scenes and songs, but there is no storyline and the cast take on multiple roles. The only continuity, of sorts, is shown in the progression from dating, to marriage, to children – a life in miniature.
The venue is simplicity itself – like a little village hall, with a bar, a few rows of chairs and a piano. These intimate surroundings are ideal; allowing the material & performances to speak for themselves, as well as echoing the theme of the piece.
My favourite song was quite early on: ‘A Stud and a Babe’. This was one of the numbers from the preview performance – I loved it then, and I loved it even more in the show! From the clever rhymes (“My nails are all chewed on / My hair is all glued on”) to some great physical comedy from Holmes & Atherton, it’s just brilliant. And it’s been stuck in my head all day!
Coincidentally, my favourite scene was also in the first act. Entitled ‘Scared Straight’, it shows an interfaith singles group on a trip to a prison, listening to a talk by mass murderer Trentell. Lipkin’s portrayal is delightfully deranged, somehow managing to keep a straight face as the story develops – unlike everyone in the audience who was doubled over with laughter!
And my reaction at half time?
The second act picks up where the first left off, with a newly married couple facing their new life together, segueing into Beck’s solo song ‘Always a Bridesmaid’ – cue more brilliant rhymes (‘taffeta’ with ‘laugh at ya’ is probably my favourite!).
Although my favourite part of the second half is the scene/song combination ‘The Family that Drives Together…’ and ‘On the Highway of Love’. An hilarious tale of a family trip to see relatives – where the car journey manages to encapsulate the current state of the couple’s relationship. Holmes plays the put-upon husband fantastically, getting some of the biggest laughs of the night.
A final highlight is the title song, in particular the a cappella section at the beginning. It’s beautiful and uplifting, leaving a smile on your face as the lights fade out at the end.
Out of a cast of four, especially this cast of four, it is impossible to pick a standout performance.
Atherton is effortlessly quirky, and gets plenty of opportunities to showcase her gorgeously distinctive vocals. “In my home I’m not the boss” – written down this is just an ordinary line, but in the hands of Samuel Holmes it is hysterical. His mastery of facial expressions & tone of voice is simply brilliant at all times. Lipkin’s comic timing is second-to-none, and he gets the chance to show off an impressive range of vocal styles throughout the show. Gina Beck may be small, but on more than one occasion the room was overflowing with her beautiful voice. And she somehow manages to be believable both as a child in the back of a car and an elderly lady being chatted up at a funeral!
If you only see one show this month, make it this one. You will not regret it!
‘I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change’ runs until Saturday 18 July.
I’d never been to the Arts Theatre before, so had no idea how I was supposed to get to ‘Upstairs at the Arts’ (or ‘Above the Arts’). I ended up standing around next to a poster advertising the show, where other people seemed to have gathered – it got to 7.20pm and I thought I’d followed the wrong sheep, but thankfully not. So if, like me, you’re a newbie to this place just look for the poster and it’ll all be fine! (Or you could just ask the box office staff, but where would be the fun in that?)