Review – Apartment 40c at St James Theatre

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Within a year of opening at its home above the Eel Brook Pub in Fulham, the London Theatre Workshop has landed its first transfer. Apartment 40c, written by the theatre’s artistic directors Ray Rackham and Tom Lees, is on a short run at the St James Studio and it’s an intriguing piece, with a strong voice.

It’s a shattered timeline: three couples – young, middle aged and old – mostly remain on stage throughout. Sometimes they sing together, sometimes separately, but each of the three couples seems to be at an important moment in their relationship. Katie and Eddie have just moved in to apartment 40c, Kate and Ed are about to move out and Kathryn and Edward are revisiting for the last time.

There’s something painful and unresolved in Lees’ score as it reflects these snapshots of transitional moments. Capturing that knife-edge divide between the pain and pleasure that memory can bring, it’s a musical with a tear in its eye. Each song starts with a forlorn gaze into the middle distance, the occasional wistful chuckle, but occasionally, when the lyrics break free from the need to rhyme or the actors capture an emotion perfectly, the music really strikes a chord and attains beauty. 

This happens most stirringly in the ensemble number ‘Time’, but there’s at least a moment of excellence in each song. And the three-strong piano and string ensemble fill the studio space perfectly. They’re never too loud, and their tone matches the miked up voices of the performers. 

Rackham has written careful structural parallels between the three storylines, so that simple moments – like having a cup of coffee – happen slightly differently for each couple, and take on different meanings. The parallels show how relationships, or at least the remembering of a relationship, are based around routines – ordering a takeaway, using pet names. And the most memorable moments are when those routines are disrupted in some way, for some reason.

Lizzie Wofford is the most at ease in her role as Kate, and her voice particularly stands out. Apartment 40c works so well because, as a contemplative and intimate musical, it is suited to the intimate studio space. A couple of strained American accents are an unfortunate distraction, and one or two of the cast don’t quite match the others in the strength of their voice but, layered with both the melancholy of nostalgia and the aching ambition for the future, it’s a gentle, heartfelt piece of writing. 

Photo by Matthew Lees

Tim Bano

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