Paper Hearts – Upstairs at the Gatehouse

PaperHearts21 Tim Hall Photography

Picture: Tim Hall Photography

Paper Hearts continues at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London until 20 May.

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Paper Hearts from first-time musical theatre writer Liam O’Rafferty, is an incredibly impressive piece of writing indeed.

Billed as ‘a high street musical’, he has skilfully and very wonderfully managed to create something contemporary with an historical twist – an absolute delight, full of surprises, twists and turns, with interesting appealing characters, wonderful humour, and plenty of heart. It never flags for one second.

The musical was first seen as a shorter 75-minute piece at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Now, as a fully developed two-act show, it really comes into its own with a beautiful evocative score, imaginative book, great choreography from Lindsay McAllister, and beautifully directed by Tania Azevedo.

A tremendous cast of 11 actors and musicians pour their heart and souls into the parallel worlds of Atticus Smith’s real life in his bookshop and home, and his struggles to write his epic 1940s war-torn Russian novel.

The characters in his life cleverly become completely different characters in his book, but in a totally unexpected way. There is human frailty in the form of procrastination, laziness and guilt, with much humour and banter, alongside love, passion and betrayal.

Adam Small as Atticus is quite superb. He gives a real nuanced, multi-layered tour de force performance, accompanied by some stirring vocals.

Matthew Atkins is so enjoyable as amiable, idiosyncratic bookshop owner Norman/Russian hero Isaak.

Gabriella Margulies, Sinéad Wall and Alasdair Baker as love interest/ill-matched girlfriend/estranged father (and Russian imaginings!) are also outstanding.

Particularly noteworthy is musical director Daniel Jarvis’ absolutely beautiful piano playing throughout – sensitive, nuanced and supremely accomplished.

His band – Amy Gardyne and Joel Benedict (guitar), Eleanor Toms (cello), Alec White (bass) and Ben Boskovic (drums and percussion) – follow his lead with equally impressive playing, also moving seamlessly from their roles as musicians to playing defined, quirky and interesting ensemble characters.

O’Rafferty’s contemporary pop-folk score is impressive. There are no weak songs, the score is rhythmic, energised, detailed and precise.

Each song is integral to the story and every one is impressively written both musically and lyrically, whether solo, duet or ensemble. Let’s hope a cast recording is in the planning.

All in all, Paper Hearts is an absolute delight all round and certainly worthy of a bigger and brighter future.

The creative team members behind this are clearly passionate about their creation and it shows.

As for O’Rafferty, I cannot wait to see what he writes next.

This is an outstanding, multi-faceted, moving and beautiful new musical, produced by an inspired creative team and performed by a tremendously talented cast of actors and musicians.

If you love musical theatre, you really must see Paper Hearts.

Catherine Françoise

Readers may also be interested in:

Paper Hearts at Upstairs at the Gatehouse – Liam O’Rafferty and Dan Jarvis chat about a new British musical – Interview


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