Scott Alan is highly regarded as a songwriter, and even if you haven’t heard of him, you’ll definitely have heard of some of the artists he’s worked with (Jeremy Jordan, Lea Salonga and Collabro, to name just a few). With a back catalogue of eight albums brimming with songs to fit almost any musical genre, it’s no surprise that more than 25 of them have been curated into a new song cycle, The Distance You Have Come, currently at The Cockpit.
It’s also a testament to Alan’s stature that a galaxy of West End stars have been cast as the group of six individuals who find themselves struggling with daily life. A few interconnected stories weave together to create a powerful and uplifting piece of theatre, Brian (Andy Coxon) and Samuel (Adrian Hansel) are a couple desperate to start a family, and in contrast Anna (Jodie Jacobs) and Laura (Alexia Khadime) have just separated to embark on different paths. Joe (Dean John-Wilson) is a recovering alcoholic, battling internal demons, while Maisey (Emma Hatton) is trying to get her big break.
Being a song cycle rather than a musical does mean that the plot feels somewhat contrived to fit the songs, but that’s not unusual in this kind of production, and if truth be told The Distance You Have Come handles it better than most. Each song flows neatly in to the next, sometimes not even allowing the audience time to applaud, but there are long silences too, bringing with them brief moments of reflection. By the conclusion, you feel you’ve got the measure of the characters and what motivates them.
The Distance You Have Come also grapples with topics often lacking in mainstream musicals, a warning posted at the entrance to the theatre advises the audience of the ‘adult themes’ to follow. Alan’s writing is very personal, so watching it performed makes it even more moving, this is a production which practically grabs you by the shoulders and gives you a good hard shake, you’re sure to find something to identify with amidst the wounding ballads.
With the afore-mentioned line-up it goes without saying that the performances are all exceptional, but there are some definite stand out moments. ‘Quicksand’ is beautifully performed by Dean John-Wilson, it is an incredibly heartrending depiction of someone who has reached the lowest point they can reach. Alexia Khadime holds the audience spellbound with ‘Kiss The Air’, as does Adrian Hansel with ‘Easy’. Andy Coxon does a marvellous job with ‘Arrive’, a number which is sure to resonate with many, while Emma Hatton’s version of ‘At All’ is just mesmerising. Jodie Jacobs gets the lions share of the lighter numbers, and they wash over the audience like a wave of welcome positivity.
Simon Daw’s set consists of a park bench, a tree with twinkling lights and a swing. It works well in filling the space and creating some common ground for the different characters. But this small park is utterly transformed by incredible lighting design from Andrew Ellis, producing wonderful tones and stark contrasts between light and shadow, thoroughly in keeping with the overall themes, it results in a very beautiful design.
While difficult themes are at the centre of this song cycle, The Distance You Have Come feels more like a message of redemption, it’s literally saying “look what you’ve achieved, see what you can do next” and that’s a very powerful and appealing message for anyone. Apparently, the whole show was pulled together in a matter of days, but it certainly doesn’t come across that way, it’s slick in look and delivery, and you can’t help but wonder what they could achieve with full development.
With such a short run, we can only hope that a further life will exist for The Distance You Have Come, because you may come for the star names, but you’ll leave with a love of Scott Alan’s glorious music, and with all those albums, there’s so much more to explore.