Updated: Sep 15
Review by Daz Gale
There’s nothing I love more than musical theatre, especially when I’m seeing a new musical for the first time – you never know when you might discover your next favourite show. The Little Big Things first grabbed my attention at West End LIVE in June when a performance of the title track blew me away. Since then, I’ve followed the show’s journey to the stage closely, all the while counting down the minutes until I finally got to see the full thing on stage. I can honestly say I’ve never been so excited to see a musical before – the problem with that is the extortionately high expectation I set upon it. How would it ever be able to meet it? By now, you may have noticed the star rating above this paragraph and I can confirm that it didn’t JUST meet my expectations… it completely obliterated them.
The fifth production to play at the beautiful new @sohoplace since it first opened last year is the first musical they have staged and a world premiere. A musical adaptation of Henry Fraser’s memoir, The Little Big Things is the story of how one moment changed his life forever, how he and his family overcame the obstacles in front of them and a true example of how sometimes it’s the little things which matter the most.
There are many elements at play that make The Little Big Things such a roaring success, and each one plays a crucial role in this production, with each deserving their own mention – so bear with me as this review is likely to be more big than little!
First and foremost, we have to talk about the book. Joe White has adapted Henry Fraser’s memoir effortlessly, retaining the heart of the story and bringing with it a whole lot of humour. A show featuring a life-changing accident may not sound like one that would be full of laughs, but Joes book defies these expectations with a wickedly funny script full of ingenious one-liners and incredible punchlines. The intricacies of the characters varied natures are played out to maximum impact, with Amy Trigg’s Agnes a contender for the best comic creation on the stage. Similarly to the constant laughs it throws at you, The Little Big Things has an important and inspiring message which, rather than be hammered in with no subtlety, gently creeps up on you until you realise you have something in your eye. Yes, this is a show that will reduce you to tears but not through sorrow. The uplifting nature of this show is unrivalled in its ability to penetrate the heart with a multifaceted nature that is a testament to Joe’s writing.
Equally sensational are the songs that fill The Little Big Things. Debuting an original score and expecting audiences to resonate with it and hopefully fall in love with the numbers is not the easiest of tasks, and often doesn’t have the desired impact. There is no such problem here with Nick Butcher and Tom Ling’s music and lyrics feeling like instant classics. The refreshingly contemporary nature of the numbers feels like a beautiful mix of something you might hear on the radio but still feels firmly at home as part of a musical. Indeed, the show is filled with immediately memorable moments such as Linzie Hateley’s heartbreakingly poignant ‘One To Seventeen’, inspiring act one closer ‘The World Is Waiting’ and the rousing highlight that is ‘Work Of Heart’. The jewel in the crown in this show is the title number which is reserved for the very end of the show. Evoking the power you feel in the very best of musical theatre with a similarity to ‘You Will Be Found’ from Dear Evan Hansen, the end result is as compelling as that other classic and is likely to stay in your head for weeks afterwards. Luckily, it’s available to stream (Guess what I listened to on the way home!)
Visually, The Little Big Things is a work of art. Colin Richmond’s set design makes full use of @sohoplace’s central stage, with a fantastically innovative use of video design from Luke Halls. Colour is an important part of the story and is executed to stunning effect thanks to Howard Hudson’s outstanding lighting design. These visual touches join together to really punctuate the power in the writing with certain choices genuinely taking my breath away. Crystal clear sound design from Paul Gatehouse ensures this is a production where every element is as good as it gets.
Tying all of these elements together is Luke Sheppard’s jaw-droppingly good direction. To say this production is ambitious would be an understatement – challenging the expectations of what can be achieved in such a relatively intimate space and testing the versatile capabilities of @sohoplace’s staging, the end result is truly spectacular. With staging full of surprises that ensures there is not a bad seat in the house, many of the choices used to tell this story are among the boldest I have ever witnessed. However, every single one was an absolute triumph, leading to the most exciting direction I have witnessed in a long time. Mark Smith’s choreography was beautiful to watch, inspiringly lifting elements from BSL in its movement, it created a beautifully inclusive approach which was always mesmerising. A special mention has to go to a certain themed party of which I refuse to spoil for anyone. However, the unusual choice of this theme and the larger than life way this was delivered on stage had me choking back tears of laughter and is among the greatest sequences I have witnessed on stage in a very long time.
Of course, none of this could be possible without the work of an amazing cast, and what a bunch they are! Sharing the role of Henry Fraser in different stages of his life are Jonny Amies and Ed Larkin. A rather unconventional approach to storytelling but one that works remarkably well. Both Jonny and Ed play off each other in a way that perfectly encapsulates the magic of theatre, never making you wonder why there are two versions of the same character sharing the stage (though I guess we can also thank The Cher Show for that). Ed Larkin gives an emotive performance full of light and shade that is constantly captivating to watch, while Jonny Amies bounces off him to create an interesting dynamic, and showcases a truly phenomenal singing voice. Bringing an authentic and tender approach to Henry’s story, both are equally incredible in their roles and deserve joint recognition for the unconventional yet wholly successful way they pull the whole thing off.
Cleve September, Jordan Benjamin and Jamie Chatterton each get times to shine individually and collectively as Henry’s three brothers Will, Dom and Tom. Each showcase a fantastic versatility in their performances, demonstrating gorgeous vocals, great dancing and a natural affinity to the role, bringing an instantly recognisable brotherly relationship to life. Linzi Hateley and Alasdair Harvey get to go on complicated journeys as Henry’s parents Fran and Andrew as they deal with the repercussions of his accident. With Linzi’s ‘One To Seventeen’ seeing her tap into her emotive best and remind audiences why she is such a legend in the world of theatre, and Alasdair getting his own moment in a reprise of that number, both are completely sensational – though a special mention must go to Linzi as her character gets led astray, leading to some surprisingly fun moments.
Malinda Parris is an early standout as Dr Graham, with her big number ‘Work Of Heart’ an undoubted standout of the evening in a brilliantly comic performance, with Gracie McGonigal and Tom Olivier getting some great moments in their brief stage time as Katie and Marco. One performance that completely blew me away was Amy Trigg’s completely hilarious turn as Agnes – a character whose presence on stage usually meant the next laugh wasn’t far away, stand up comedians would kill for some of the material she had. Amy’s ability to deliver these expertly written lines with such panache ensured a smile appeared on my face whenever I clocked her on the stage.
You may have gathered from this long and rambling review that I found The Little Big Things special, but why is that? Quite simply, it’s down to its ability to connect with the audience in a way that many other shows could only dream of managing. The story takes a dark moment in Henry’s life and fills it with colour in a beautifully inspiring way. This production feels progressive in its nature, with a refreshing stance on inclusion leading to a wonderfully represented cast. As Amy Trigg delivers one powerful speech early on about the use of the word disabled, seeing some shows tackle the subject so powerfully is going to create so much positivity in the world of theatre, and hopefully lead to some much-needed change in terms of representation. Hearing people talk about how incredible it is to see this representation on stage very much feels long overdue.
I always say theatre at its best can make you feel, and The Little Big Things is the perfect example of that. I can’t remember the last time I cried as much as I did at this performance, nor the last time I felt so compelled to immediately jump to my feet the moment the show ended – it really is THAT special. The way it tackles serious themes in such an inspiring way has led to a show that is jubilant and uplifting, painting the narrative in its own distinctive way. Perfect feels like the most fitting word to describe this show as everything about it is absolutely faultless. Completely heart-warming and life-affirming, this show really is everything I love about theatre and what I believe musicals should be. While some may take these words with a pinch of salt, believe me when I say this is one of the best things I have ever seen - they really have created a masterpiece.
A wonderful show full of colour, I have no doubt that this is going to be the next big thing. Get yourself a ticket before it sells out – believe me, this is one show you won’t want to miss.
The Little Big Things plays at @sohoplace until 25th November. Tickets from https://sohoplace.org/whats-on/the-little-big-things
Photos by Pamela Raith