Soho Boy, a new musical by Paul Emelion Day, follows Spencer’s search for fame, fortune and love. Spencer is a wannabe cabaret ‘chanteuse’, whose penchant for torch songs was inspired by his widowed mother’s love of Edith Piaf. In this 50-minute production, we see life through the eyes of Spencer – played by newcomer Owen Dennis – and witness the ups and downs of being a gay man in London.
This is a one-person show and almost entirely sung-through, so its success or failure lays in the hands of the performer playing Spencer. Fortunately, in Owen Dennis, they are safe hands. He shows a deft ability to move from portraying outrageous cabaret artist to vulnerable, young man coming out to his mother. This is a genuinely engaging performance, delivered with natural ease and charm. Dennis appears to be at his most comfortable in the more vulnerable, introspective elements of his narrative, which also seem to suit his expressive singing voice best.
Under Matt Strachan’s direction, the pace never drops despite the numerous costume and location changes, masterfully enable by David Shields’ simple but effective set. And Richard Lambert’s lighting design transports us through both the safe and seedy aspects of Spencer’s life.
I’m not sure if this production of Soho Boy is the finished article. It feels as if there might be more work to do on the script and a couple of the numbers but for 50 minutes, thanks to Owen Dennis’ fine performance, I was transported to Spencer’s sometimes sad, sometimes funny but always hopeful life.