‘Breaking Bad’ is a huge TV phenomenon and, with a mighty five seasons, it is more than a little ambitious to condense so much action into a single comedy musical. Yet this production does so phenomenally.
The production gives off an air of striving against adversity. The title has been carefully crafted to ward away any potential copyright lawsuit; the venue is more than a little “off-the-beaten-track”; about ten minutes into the performance, they had to break to fix the lighting. Still, the musical is captivating, hilarious, and requires little prior knowledge of the TV series.
There are only six performers, and the speed of character changes was at times dazzling. These six play dozens of different characters, but every characterisation feels sharp – each role delineated by specific mannerisms, accents and body movement. On top of this, they double as band as well as cast. There are a guitar, drums, saxophone, and keyboard, but also bongos, violin, harmonica, a keytar which doubles as a gun, and an impromptu flute solo in the middle of a rap song. Rebecca Levy was particularly impressive with her ability to switch from flute, to sax, to guitar with seeming ease, as well as shifting seamlessly between the roles of Jesse and Gretchen.
The composer, Rob Gathercole, has written some hysterical songs which are performed excellently by the cast; some favourites are ‘The Motherf***ing DEA’, ‘Sorry, Gretchen’ and ‘Comedy Lawyer’ – the latter of which Gathercole sings himself, in the role of Saul. He also voices and animates the puppet of Walt’s son who speaks just like Dickens’ Tiny Tim from ‘A Christmas Carol’ to much hilarity.
There are many songs packed in, which sometimes makes one musical number bleeds into another or ends abruptly, which can unfortunately rob the individual songs of the credit they deserve. There is no elaborate choreography, nor focus on the cast’s vocal talent, but the show in no way suffers from this.
Comic facial expressions are a particular strength across the board and the performers’ energy radiates from the stage. Tweddle really hits on Walt’s mannerisms, particularly his hard stare. Gathercole’s Saul has the perfect level of greasy lawyer charm, whilst Scott Brook’s Hank is a total police force bro: ‘Breaking Bad’ really does have the perfect comic archetypes just waiting to be mocked and caricatured, and this musical mines that comic potential for all its worth.
A standout moment was that all of the third series is explained through the dual mediums of song and puppetry: as a mariachi band sing, Levy and Olivia Warren (who primarily plays Skylar) desperately try to keep up with the music whilst wielding rudimentary puppets of the characters. At another point, a short silent film is projected depicting ‘The Great Train Heist’ in a fantastic pastiche. The approach is fresh and inventive; the production turns a small budget to its artistic advantage. I think more rehearsal time to tighten certain scenes and a more suitable venue would elevate the show further, but the occasional rough-around-the-edges feel didn’t spoil its entertainment value – indeed Warren corpsing in the role of Hector actually added to the hilarity.
‘Say My Name’ runs until 2nd November and you can get tickets here.
PHOTOS: Sam Chapman Visuals
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