On Your Bike

10/08/21

the Space@Surgeon’s Hall, Edinburgh

The members of Cambridge University’s Musical Theatre Society have a lot to live up to: their predecessors were responsible for the smash hit SiX. I’d feel a bit mean for introducing the comparison, if it weren’t for the fact that they’re touting the link as a means of promotion, so I reckon it’s fair game.

And honestly, they don’t come out too badly. Okay, so On Your Bike (words by Joe Venable; music by Ben James) doesn’t have the universal appeal of a rewritten bit of history, nor the inbuilt narrative arc. But it’s a lovely, lively – and meaningful – musical nonetheless, and I am thoroughly engaged.

It’s a timely tale. Aidan (Dominic Carrington) longs to be an artist; Gemma (Ella Nevill) just wants to pay her rent. To make ends meet, they work as ‘Eatseroo’ riders. They wait outside Felicity (Claire Lee Shenfield)’s chicken shop, desperate for work, conscious all the time of the precariousness of their situation: their zero hours contracts, their poor pay, their lack of employment rights. And when Gemma is knocked off her bike, she has nowhere to turn…

Aidan’s girlfriend, Daisy (Emilia Grace), is no help. She works for Eatseroo in a different capacity: she’s a ‘proper’ worker, with an office and a salary. She’s bought into the company’s ethos, and wants Aidan to sell out his dreams.

Although the musical addresses serious issues (unionisation, exploitation, animal rights), it does so with a lightness of touch, so that it never feels hectoring. There is humour here, and tenderness, and a gentle love story – which feels all the more romantic for never being fully resolved.

The four performers all have fabulous voices, as you’d expect, and they complement each other well. The songs are upbeat and zesty, embodying the youthful spirit of the protagonists. There is archetypal musical theatre here, but James has also incorporated rock, jazz and hip hop, to vivacious effect.

Maybe Daisy’s redemption feels a little pat, and perhaps Gemma’s post-crash desperation could be highlighted a little more. But these are only quibbles: this is, without doubt, a quality piece of work.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield

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