Paper Hearts by Liam O’Rafferty Upstairs at the Gatehouse

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I’ll be honest, I’m not usually one for musicals and generally stay clear of the West End as I find it all a bit too much. That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate the talent of the performers, I just prefer theatre with a meaty, philosophical plot at its heart and generally I find that musicals can’t offer me that. But I arrived with an open mind and was excited about seeing a new British musical that had had rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival last year and was aiming for the top.

Located in the slick and stylish Highgate in the Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre Pub, Paper Hearts is a two-act musical set in a bookshop – how very Notting Hill I hear you say. The story follows Atticus Smith, an aspiring writer and book shop assistant, who spends his time penning new stories. The plot shifts between his reality and 1940s Russia, the setting of his book Angel Star. Things are not going so well for Atticus and his fiery girlfriend Alex and things get even worse when he finds out his beloved bookshop is about to bought out by a big online corporate company, leaving him out of the job. But things hot up when Lilly Sprocket, the new manager, arrives, putting Atticus in some very difficult situations. The future of the bookshop rests in his hands and it’s up to him to save it and decide where his heart lies.

Okay, so the plot isn’t exactly original. It’s certainly not terrible but it isn’t brilliant and if you’re looking for a life changing philosophical experience and the opportunity to answer some of life’s greatest questions, then it’s probably not quite the right show for you. The greatest thing about this show is, of course, the music. Described as being ‘a contemporary, pop-folk score’, the songs are catchy, fun and energetic, played by an ensemble of very talented musicians. On a number of the songs, I found myself tapping my foot along and bobbing my head. I particularly enjoyed It’s You, Not Me which I was very pleased made a return in act two. My own complaint here would be that the choreography seems a bit basic and somewhat underwhelming, especially in such a small space where everything is on show to us.

The young cast, comprising of five main characters and five ensemble/musicians, is very strong. Sinead Wall, playing Yanna and Alex, is brilliant and has a truly beautiful voice. Her ability to switch character so quickly and so convincingly (It took me quite a while to work out that Wall was in fact playing both characters) is impressive. Gabriella Margulies as Lilly Sprocket is also exceptional and leading the troupe as Atticus Smith, Adam Small is excellently well cast.

The red and white themed stage, designed by Anna Driftmier, is filled with piles and piles of books, giving that privately-owned bookshop feel. Though the stage was quite large for quite a small venue, there is quite a lot on stage (not to mention the ten performers), making some of the bigger numbers feel ever so slightly cramped.

Overall, this is a fun show with some exceptional young talent. The music is bright, the songs are bouncy and the atmosphere is exciting. The plot is definitely not its strongest point but then again, it never is with musicals. If you’re looking for a good time, a bit of a laugh and some catchy show tunes, then I’d definitely recommend heading on down.

WIGS 4/5

By Grace Ward

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