Making its European première at Tristan Bates, Pete ‘n’ Keely started life as an Off Broadway show written by James Hindman (book), Mark Waldrop (lyrics) and Patrick S. Brady (music & lyrics). Interestingly it’s a two-hander musical, but fortunately with a live band to provide the music.
Set in 1968, formerly married showbiz couple Pete Bartel and Keely Stevens have reunited for a crassly sponsored live TV reunion show. For some reason, it’s been deemed appropriate for them to do a recap of their lives together by dramatising moments and performing relevant songs; it begins in a light-hearted fashion, but as they approach the time of their divorce the onstage mood becomes as bitter as it did offstage…
It definitely looks the part, with Emily Bestow’s set design evoking thoughts of the 60s and TV musical shows – although I could definitely do without the Pete ‘n’ Keely sign blinding me when the lights around the edge of it are turned on. The bulbs are unnecessarily bright and aimed directly at the audience, coming on at unpredictable moments. The sound levels aren’t always spot on either, so it can be difficult to hear some of the singing over the playing of the band.
Initially billed as two hours (including an interval), it actually runs 10-15 minutes shorter than advertised and retains the interval – I do wonder whether it could just run straight through. The show within the show takes commercial breaks, during which we see Pete and Keely’s animosity towards one another, so it would surely serve just as well to add another ‘off camera’ scene in rather than take an interval. The costume change isn’t strictly necessary (it doesn’t affect the plot in the slightest), or it could be worked in some other way.
There are some enjoyable moments, though for the most part you feel like you’re laughing at it rather than along with it. Add in the clichés (including an alcohol problem and a man with an eye for the younger lady) and it’s actually quite embarrassing. The attempt to make things darker in the second half only results in boredom, as slow song follows slow song. There’s also a bit of audience participation if you’re ‘lucky’ enough to get picked – so if you want to avoid this I’d suggest sitting out of grabbing distance from the front or the aisle!
David Bardsley and Katie Kerr do their best to salvage something from what they’ve been given, but there isn’t actually a lot they can do. It’s clear they both have good comic timing; a lot of the jokes only fall a bit flat because they are truly terrible. Kerr in particular has a wonderful voice, and luckily does get the chance to showcase it every now and then.
My verdict? Embarrassing to laugh at, full of clichés, and really drags towards the end – a show that’s mediocre at best.
Pete ‘n’ Keely runs at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 20 May 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office.