Image courtesy Southwark Playhouse
Alex James Ellison
A new musical by Alex James Ellison and Tom Lees, follows the story of a humble five pound note as it passes through the hands and pockets of people in London.
Often unnoticed and obviously unaware, the fiver is present for significant moments in each person's life - whether it be an appreciation of their skills as a street performer; the start or end of a relationship; or the simple realisation that they can afford a bed for the night.
This beautifully crafted series of musical vignettes explores the value of money, relationships between people, and the relationships between people and their money.
Through carefully interwoven narrative threads, we learn the presumed value and worth of a fiver to different types of people, and are present at the key moment when the value of a fiver - given or received - can be dramatically altered by circumstance.
The diverse characters in Fiver are explored through a broad variety of musical styles as we follow our unusual hero through the ups and down of what is - to a fiver - just a normal day.
You don't need me to tell you that you don't get much for a fiver these days.
Thanks to inflation - and perhaps a touch of profiteering along the way - the humble fiver doesn't stretch that far these days and has been relegated to the lower ranks of our monetary system.
True, it's still a cut above the even more humble pound coin or any of the other coinage currently in circulation.
But, though there's life in the fiver yet, its days might well be numbered depending on just how rapidly our use of cash continues to decline in favour of card and bank payments.
That might impact the longevity of this musical whose main focus is one specimen among the lowest-valued notes in our currency.
In its current form, the fiver is printed on polymer which the Bank of England claims to be cleaner, stronger and longer-lasting.
It's a good job it possesses those qualities, because the fiver we follow in this musical has some extensive travelling to do as it wends its way through various events and passes from hand-to-hand as the plot unfolds.
Now the idea of focusing on the travels and travails of a fiver as it journeys through our society, is quite a neat and interesting idea.
The concept strings together otherwise disparate scenes, but leaves the lingering doubt as to whether it is merely an artificial device to bring together a wide range of scenarios and situations that would otherwise be impossible or impractical to merge within a single production.
Alex James Ellison as the busker - photo by Danny_with_a_camera
Alex James Ellison is the 'professional' busker we meet at the start of the show and his on-stage persona provides songs, accompaniment and some narrational services - complete with semi-philosophical pronouncements - as we traverse the multifarious scenes the show encapsulates.
Now there's an ingenious contrivance used to acquire the fiver that becomes the focal point of the show.
And the denouement mirrors that initial acquisition rather cleverly, though I'm not going to spoil the idea by detailing it here.
In between, we meet a wide variety of characters, all played by a young, energetic ensemble who easily switch between roles and deliver the songs with considerable panache in the acting department and with the required vocal talent to match.
The first half rummages around in some rather gloomy situations - homelessness and bereavement, for example - so that by the time the interval arrived, I felt distinctly glum.
An unsettling subplot, about letters sent to a teacher, surfaces regularly in both halves, but I couldn't resolve just what its true purpose was in the overall scheme of the show.
I'm a real sucker for the haunting tones of the cello, so it's great to have two players (Florian Belbeoch and Will Robertson) in the production.
Alex James Ellison provides an affable lead, skilfully accompanying on guitar, and his co-composer, Tom Lees, ably and effectively leads the small band.
Aoife Clesham secured the most appreciative reception of the evening with her powerfully sung comedic number about wanting to get back with a former lover.
There are times when the fiver itself becomes lost within the varied scenes we encounter, often struggling to find a purposeful presence.
Moreover, we don't really get the impression of this particular fiver being a character in its own right and having any significant influence.
Rather, once it makes its way into another scene, it often languishes in the back back seat, only to be resurrected when matters need to be moved on.
It would have been more interesting to see how the fiver's 'nature' affected the characters and the situations - and the 'power' of money is never satisfactorily explored.
Fiver, though, is one of those musicals that is diverting enough to amply entertain, even if some of its exploration of modern life proves gloomy and, at times, oddly unsettling.
Cast (from left): Luke Bayer, Hiba Elchikhe, Alex James Ellison, Dan Buckley, Aoife Clesham - photo by Danny_with_a_camera
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Southwark Playhouse
Our show listing for Fiver
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