There are a few reasons Select Committees are only shown on BBC Parliament at obscure times of the day; they don’t have much authority, are comprised of generally unpopular MP’s, and are not particularly interesting. The idea of turning one into a musical is certainly innovative, brave even, but ultimately does little to make them any more compelling.
Under the direction of Adam Penford, Committee, written by Hadley Fraser and Josie Rourke, looks primarily at one days evidence on Whitehall’s relationship with the ill-fated charity Kids Company, which swallowed up large sums of public money.
It begins with an introduction of who all the important players are, including their status following the 2017 General Election even though it’s set two years earlier, and a brief overview of what the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) does. The audience are told that anyone can go and sit in the public gallery of a committee hearing, for free and without a ticket. Ten minutes in, and I wondered how many people in the audience had wished they had done just that, and saved themselves the price of a Donmar ticket.
There are two real issues with the whole thing, firstly verbatim accounts have been set to music, so it doesn’t really lend itself to lyrical ingenuity. To overcome this, phrases are just sung over and over (We Want To Learn) adding to the already rather dull proceedings.
Secondly, there’s something a little uncomfortable in hearing evidence about vulnerable children being set to a jaunty tune. ‘As long as they don’t start dancing’ I thought to myself, just as three cast members leave their seats and perform a thankfully brief jig.
The story of how Kids Company operated, and ultimately folded, is actually quite interesting, just as Tom Deering’s music is really rather beautiful and wonderfully played by the band. It’s only when you put the two together that it jars.
The set looks pretty good too, and you could easily believe yourself to be in Portcullis House rather than The Donmar Warehouse. Some strong performances from David Albury and Sandra Marvin are, sadly, drowned out by a few over eager impersonations scattered around the room.
As the audience left the theatre, no one was talking about the score, the staging or the performances. They were however, talking about Kids Company and Camila Batmanghelidjh, if this was the intention then Committee is a success, if not; then, like the charity, this musical is reaching dangerously beyond its means.