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Streaming Review: First Date

It's fair to say 2020 has been a challenging year for everybody, particularly the Arts. If there's one positive to take from it, it's how creatives have responded to ensure work is carrying on in new and innovative measures. The past few months has seen the rise of the virtual musical - an alien concept at first, the novelty has now worn off and we have accepted it as the new normal. While watching a show from the comfort of your own home can never match the experience of stepping inside a theatre, it is the next best thing as we await all theatres up and down the country to re-open and local restrictions lifted. Virtual shows do have some pros though - at least you can watch it without having to worry about the people next to you rustling sweets (unless you live with a sweet rustler that is).


Lambert Jackson have been one of the most prolific production companies during the pandemic. Having previously produced virtual productions of The Last Five Years and Songs For A New World (recently performed at the Palladium), not to mention a whole host of concerts, they have tried their hand at First Date.



If you have never heard of First Date before, it is not based on the Channel 4 show where two strangers meet in a restaurant... although it is very similar. First seen in 2012, the show played in Broadway the following year but only for a five month run. It has rarely been seen since and this is the first time the show has made it to our shores. Fill it with five of the West ends finest and this had every reason to be a resounding success. But did it live up to it?


The show is set in New York City and tells the story of Aaron and Casey - two strangers who meet on a blind date at a restaurant (brilliantly filmed at the gorgeous Zedel in London). They are polar opposites of each other and clash repeatedly. Throughout, we see an honest and captivating portrayal of what dating is like. How many of us have been on an awful first date before? The relatability factor is in the charm of the show and what makes it so instant to follow. By the end of it, you are in the moment and believe every emotion that is played by the incredible cast.


Speaking of the cast, some of the best talents this side of the Atlantic are on display for all to see. Samantha Barks has found fame playing in the West End and Broadway. Soon to be seen as Elsa in Frozen, she is the epitome of the word "Star". Charismatic and authentic in her portrayal, she gives a flawless performance as Casey. We all know Samantha Barks can sing (Surely her 'On My Own' is in all of our playlists?) but when she tackled one of the shows biggest numbers, 'Safer', I required assistance to pick my jaw up off of the floor.


Meeting Casey on the date is Aaron, played by Simon Lipkin. Aaron is inexperienced and awkward with a tendency to put his foot in his mouth. Deeper than that, he has a lot of heart, and when pushed, he stands up for himself and discovers inner strength. Lipkin plays this perfectly, channeling every complicated strand that makes up Aaron's personality. I have seen Simon Lipkin a few shows before but never seen him anywhere near as incredible as he is in this. If you didn't fall in love with both Aaron and Simon during this show, you have a heart of stone.


The supporting cast all get standout moments while playing various side characters. Nicholas McLean is hilarious as Casey's bailout Reggie. Every time he pops up, he doesn't fail to bring a smile to your face with each appearance more frantic and ridiculous than the last. Danielle Steers showcases her versatility through a series of characters including Aaron's grandmother, Aaron's girlfriend (that could get confusing) and even Google. Yes, you heard me right. Google! Whatever role is playing, she is utterly flawless and proves why she is sure to be one of the biggest stars in the West end in years to come.



Speaking of Google, if you search the phrase "scene stealer" you will find a picture of Oscar Conlon-Morrey. Having won a legion of fans this year through his hilarious social media videos, having him in this show ensured there was never going to be a dull moment. From the opening where he explains how a virtual production works to every single time he literally popped up, all eyes were well and truly on him. The interval was one of the funniest strokes of genius I've ever witnessed and his quick change "Big finish" had me applauding in my own home. To be that funny all the time is no small feat and Oscar should be commended for how brilliant he is to achieve it so perfectly.


In terms of writing, the show is ridiculously funny with some truly hilarious lines. The cast revel in the opportunity to get their tongues around the dialogue and clearly love the chance to make the audience smile and laugh in a year where they have been few and far between. Special mention has to be the inclusion of a puppet for one of the funniest moments in the show. It's not all laughs though. 'The Things I Never Said' hits you like a bolt out of the blue with its emotional depth. The fact this show can have you crying with laughter and sadness within a split second is a testament to its brilliance.


Ultimately this is a love story, and while they may not seem like a match made in heaven at first, you are rooting for Casey and Aaron. This is thanks to the amazing chemistry between the two leads. You become as invested in them as a couple as you did with Jack and Kate in Titanic. At least with this couple, you suspect Casey may have made room for Aaron rather than let him drown. Without giving anything away, the end result for them is as satistfying and heartwarming as you would hope.


To summarise, this show was a complete triumph. Beautifully filmed, incredibly cast and flawlessly acted all lending itself well to a show with a great story and even better songs. This was the first time First Date has made it to the UK but I hope it's not the last. Let's start the campaign for Lambert Jackson to bring this production with this cast to a stage so we can revel in this masterpiece in person. My one condition is that Oscar Conlon-Morrey must stay on the the stage during the interval - preferably awkwardly eyeballing the audience.


★★★★★


If you want to watch First Date, you have one more chance as it will be streamed on Saturday 24th October at 7.30pm. Tickets on sale through lambertjackson.co.uk

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