Review: A1: The Road Musical- How Did Anyone Ever Think It Was OK For Real Life To Be In Song-Form?!

August 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

A1: The Road Musical: Channel 4, Friday 29th August, 7.30pm

This show is the reason why real life should never be a musical.  Ok, I admit, in the past there’s been a few times when I’ve found myself wandering down the street longing for a break from the humdrum sound of people and cars and stuff.  Then, daydreaming, I’ve envisaged how cool it would be if it all suddenly turned into a scene from Oliver with men dancing around their brooms and women selling sweet red roses and yodelling about milk.  However, Benjamin Till’s debut half-hour film A1: The Road Musical, part of Channel 4’s Generation Next, documentary new talent First Cut strand, has killed and buried any such whim.

Following truck driver, Dave Brown on a journey along the A1 from London to Edinburgh, a route he drives frequently, he sings and twiddles the radio as people who live along the A1 are introduced and proceed to sing about themselves.  We hear how one woman felt when a stranger held her hand after a car crash (cringe) and another guy lost his brother in a road accident (guilty cringe) and another guy cares so much about his town being in Scotland not England- “Your borders out of order Mr. Brown? (bored and especially big cringe).  Essentially, these people can’t sing or perform and I can’t feel for any of their stories because I’m too busy hoping the ground will swallow me up so I no longer have to listen to their awful crooning.

Now, I’m not someone to discourage artistic experimentation.  In fact, this is one of Channel 4’s biggest charms.  I love the fact that they roll out short films by wide-eyed writers and offer mere beginners a chance at enlivening the conversation on Hollyoaks in between the dialogue-less bedroom scenes- [kisses him and unbuttons his shirt]- but this bizarre take on a documentary defines the meaning of ‘random; not-in-a-good-way’.

I can’t help thinking, if a road musical really had to be made, why not go all out and make a unique, stylized masterpiece based on fact but with extravagant costumes and zany camera angles with professional actors?  No doubt, the vision was there, but the budget wasn’t and instead, what we are left with here is mutated documentary spawn, a take on real life that rubbishes its sometimes tragic content with a warble-y song and a lame attempt at performing that often centres round the singer glancing furtively over the camera for reassurance from the director, who no doubt is trying desperately to keep his head from his hands.

Watch A1: The Road Musical to remind yourself why musicals should remain fantastical and ornate things, where we don’t question why someone’s describing their day to you in song-form, and never step over into normality.  It’s not moving because it’s about real life, it’s just uncomfortable.

By Susan Allen