Reviews //

Seymour Centre’s ‘On A Clear Day You Can See Forever’: Colourful, funny, and good for the soul

The show is a sweet medicine for anyone exhausted with life’s twists and turns, and a tonic for anyone in need of a laugh.

Photography by David Hooley

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, presented by Squabbalogic and the Seymour Centre, is the most fun I’ve had at the theatre in a long while. Continuing the long history of a lost Broadway gem, Jay James-Moody as director and adaptor masterminds a charming story of self-love and self-determination. Before the show begins, classic show tunes play over the speakers, evoking a sense of nostalgia in the older audience. With all the student theatre I watch, sometimes I forget that not all of us are evil young rascals. As the lights dim, the inevitable hush descends.

The musical follows the story of three people in two bodies. Psychiatrist Dr Bruckner (Blake Bowden) discovers a dead woman, Melinda (Madeline Jones), living inside the soul of one of his patients, David Gamble (Jay James-Moody), in the course of a hypnotherapy session.

Through a supernatural combination of hypnotism, ESP and the sparkling spot between the living and the dead, a love triangle surfaces. The set (designed by Michael Hankin and realised by Bella Rose Saltearn) mirrors the story’s descent into madness. It begins as a psychologist’s bland wood-panelled office stretched to absurd size, over which Bruckner holds decisive dominion. Over time, it becomes overrun with flowers as David’s extraordinary personality and psychic husbandry infuses into the space.

A common and infuriating criticism often launched at musicals is their lack of depth, but the richness of the story and characters in On A Clear Day make this claim laughable. Each character is fully realised and personable, brought to life by a cast of immense talent. Bowden as Dr Bruckner is a charming sceptic. In my favourite moment of the whole night, a couple swear undying love to each other on top of his desk while he sits beside them eating skittles. His chemistry with David is electric, and his transformation into a morally complicated romantic is made believable by how lovable David is.

James-Moody’s David is genderbent from the original role of Daisy, famously played by Barbara Streisand in the 1970 film. The character uses both names, and there is a very accessible trans read to the play. Much as I enjoy Shakespearean-level sexual confusion, the play was focused much more powerfully on identity than on relationships. In the search for identity, David — a ‘sentient marshmallow’ — is caught up in the expectations and desires of those around him — friends, Dr Bruckner, and David’s overbearing fiancée Warren, struggling with internalised homophobia.

The choreography (Leslie Bell) is gorgeous and very well executed. It’s rare to see the three-person waltz pulled off elegantly these days. The show’s original lyrics and music have been adapted by Natalya Aynsley and live up to the show’s illustrious Broadway origins. The voices of a talented cast contribute to several particularly stunning numbers.

Melinda’s power is palpable in her voice during ‘Don’t Tamper With My Sister’, so fierce that it’s hard to believe she’s been dead for 100 years. Both ‘Hurry, it’s Lovely Up Here’ and ‘On the S.S. Bernard Cohn’ are dexterously performed and bright, with phenomenal physicality from the ensemble. A highlight was Bowden’s sonorous performance of ‘Come Back to Me’, marking his descent from figure of authority to a figure desperate to possess David, in body and souls. Despite the romantic tune, the song manages to be quite menacing, with Bruckner surrounded by black and white spirals and using a commanding tone of voice.

This production is sweet and entertaining, but it also achieves something very difficult. You see, the love triangle at the centre of all of it manages to be equal parts satisfying and excruciating. All of the cast have phenomenal chemistry, and the way they push and pull like magnets is delicious. In the way many real-life romantic mishaps play out, the emotional resolution is hard-won but earnt, leaving a bittersweetness that packs a punch after a production seeming so light-hearted. This marks the endurance of the musical 50 years on, and the strength of Squabbalogic’s production: amidst the Broadway showmanship is a sliver of real life. The show is a sweet medicine for anyone exhausted with life’s twists and turns, and a tonic for anyone in need of a laugh.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever will be on at the Seymour Centre until April 15.

Filed under: