“As 1933 draws to a close, Laurence and Wilfred find themselves absorbed in a whirlwind of fabulously indulgent evenings across London’s West End with their fellow queer friends. But although their hidden world seems surprisingly free and easy, how long can it last?
Jude Taylor’s musical comedy stars Barry O’Reilly (Laurence) and Teddy Hinde (Wilfred), and should have been showing at this year’s Vault Festival. Instead, directed by Matt Powell, it has been given three new lives – on demand from 20 February – 6 March; at the Curve, Leicester on 23 February; and at The Other Palace Studio on 25–26 February.
From the beginning Is He Musical? reminded me a lot of themusical play Fanny and Stella, . Although in that show, the men presented as women; here, Wilfred is neither male nor female, and a play toy for the master they serves.
As a view into a world of shadows, sisters, and fears of criminal convictions, this is a piece which takes flight in its songs and in its dual performances. The title reminded me of the possibly urban myth about Winston Churchill and Ivor Novello after spending the night together (“how was he?” “very musical”).
I was particularly taken with Hinde’s performance, as they communicate the character of someone who doesn’t quite belong in everyday life; their Wilfred is far more confident with their sisters than on the estate on which they work. Hinde also showcases a wonderful singing voice full of emotion and range.
This is a glimpse into a fast-paced world, closed but celebratory. A violin and a cello (Adastra P Flether-Hall and Kathryn Monteiro, respectively) provide the soundtrack of the moment, bringing Taylor’s original songs and a few surprises into the mix.
O’Reilly has a pinch of star quality , with a fine set of pipes and a convincing portrayal of a boy making his first steps in an unfamiliar world (a lovely rendition of “The Boy I Love I Up In The Gallery”).
Set and Costume Designer Ana Webb-Sanchez has taken an understated approach with clothes, furniture and plot to put us in the pre-war city in which men like Laurence and non-defined people like Wilfred thrive. There is fine chemistry between the pair, but I found them most convincing in the musical interludes and in the touching final coda.
Francesca Fenech is the musical director of this show, and Ryan Wiggins in in charge of movement, with Sarah K Whitfield as dramatugist and George Strickland as musical arranger.
Is He Musical? is inspired by a wide array of documentaries, articles and archives shining light on this rich and often forgotten era of history.
Is He Musical? is intriguing, if uneven, and needs a little more context or additional characterisation to make it really fly. However, it raises the rainbow flag to LGBTQ+ pioneers and does it well.
For details of how to book access to the online version, or the concert version at The Other Palace on 25-26 February, go here.