The Venus Factor, presented by students from the Musical Theatre Academy (MTA), continues at the Bridewell Theatre, London until 12 September.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Venus thinks sex drives the world. Her sparky son Cupid says it’s romance. Thus begins a competition to see who is right. Lust versus love. Meanwhile, in the mortal world, two women start a dating agency which might work if they weren’t so desperately short of men to assign dates to. It’s witty, nicely observed and if it’s risqué then it’s pretty tasteful.
Lauren Jacobs is engaging as Cupid, small of stature, nimble of movement and idealistic in manner. Her account of the opening number, big feathery wings being flapped behind her, gets the show off to a strong start. Angelika Eklund sings well as the sexy red-clad Venus, although her rendering of the spoken dialogue is a little bit forced.
Nick Stimson’s book gives us a neat narrative in which things tend to happen in satisfying threes – a useful device since there are only three male students in this group. Three young women, Faith (Grace Heap), Chelsea (Bella Hamilton) and Charlie (Samantha Harper) are looking for love. And they’re well directed to present three very well differentiated types (the director is Pip Minnithorpe). Heap is refined and dreamy, Hamilton coarsely randy and Harper gently vulnerable. Harper does especially well when she’s failing to dance with Nathan Larkin as Brian (who provides a terrific cameo as a DJ-ing disco dancer) and when she sings her lovely, lyrical wistful minor key number in Act I.
Ah yes, that music. Written by Annemarie Lewis Thomas who also directs a fine five-piece live band, it nips in an out of a wide range of rhythms and moods and isn’t afraid to be tuneful as it pounds along. The lyrics are strong too and these students have been trained to ensure that we hear every word – even in the joyful ‘Let’s Fuck’ number (no coyness in this show and a good thing too). Commendably slick choreography means that the pace never flags.
Few drama schools allow their first year students to perform a full-length public show, but MTA policy is a show every term. In this case the 16 girls and three boys in the group have mostly risen to the challenge. The Venus Factor is, of course, a new especially commissioned show and the advantage of that is that it is structured to give every cast member plenty to do and to accommodate the gender imbalance. The result is an enjoyable hour and three quarters of musical theatre.