The phrase ‘the best show of the year’ has been thrown about so often recently it’s starting to lose meaning with audiences, and that’s a real shame for productions such as the new British musical, The Little Big Things, a show which should most definitely be in contention for such an accolade.
This world premiere production comes to @SohoPlace, directed by Luke Sheppard, and is based on Henry Fraser’s best-selling memoir of the same name. Anyone who’s read the book will already know the inspirational story; as a promising rugby player with a real future in the game, Fraser went on his first ever ‘lad’s holiday’ with his two older brothers. A diving accident would leave Fraser paralysed from the neck down, and finding every aspect of his life changed forever.
Let’s be clear, this is an emotional story. Half the auditorium spent most of the second act sobbing, yet The Little Big Things is also tremendously optimistic and hopeful, this is a musical that celebrates the tiny moments of joy that can be found in even the hardest of situations and makes those little things, the biggest part of the story.
Sheppard’s glorious production is filled with truly surprising moments that draw gasps from the audience, quite a feat with so little in the way of set. The LCD screen floor bursts to life and transports us to the furthest reaches of Henry’s mind, but there so much more too – expect to be blown away.
Part of the show is set during Henry’s recovery at Stoke Mandeville, but you won’t see hospital beds or any kind of medical equipment, because Joe White’s book paints a vivid picture of Henry’s extraordinary and inspirational outlook on life. His family are also portrayed as protective and caring and some of the most heartwarming moments happen between Henry and his three siblings, played beautifully by Jordan Benjamin, Jamie Chatterton and Cleve September.
But more than just telling the story, this musical helps audiences feel like they are experiencing it, Joe White has carefully and considerately explored the entire spectrum of emotion in just two hours. One of the most powerful lines comes from Amy Trigg’s Agnes as she prepares the family for Henry’s homecoming, “you have to learn to adapt for him,” she says, “not the other way round.”
There are two Henry Frasers in this story, the younger pre-accident Henry, and the slightly older post-accident Henry. The whole musical essentially boils down to the two supporting each other; preparing young Henry for what’s to come, and reminding older Henry just how colourful life can be.
As the younger Henry, Jonny Amies is brimming with a naivety and innocence that’s incredibly endearing, it makes each set back in Henry’s life all the more difficult to accept, but it also strengthens those moments of hope.
As the older Henry, Ed Larkin’s soaring performance feels like something momentous, and not just because a wheelchair using artist is leading a West End company, Larkin’s portrayal of Henry is so eloquently heartfelt, you feel every bit of emotion all the more strongly.
The whole cast are superb; as the physiotherapist Agnes, Amy Trigg earned a round of applause for almost every line delivered, and Gracie McGonigal delivers a pitch perfect portrayal of Henry’s love interest, Katie.
As Henry’s mother, Linzi Hateley brings us one (of many) stand out moments in The Little Big Things, as Fran learns her son will probably never walk again, she delivers with agonising authenticity the song ‘One to Seventeen’. Surprisingly, it is one of the few songs in this musical that isn’t an upbeat or catchy number.
Nick Butcher’s music and Tom Ling’s lyrics (lyrics also by Butcher) are, like everything in this musical – an absolute joy. This is probably most evident in the title number, which comes at the very end; imagine, if you can, a theatre full of people who are crying, but still dancing in their seats to a rallying anthem of hope.
Five stars are probably not enough for this very special piece of musical theatre, it’s a once in a lifetime privilege to see this incredible cast tell Henry Fraser’s extraordinary story. And for producers who want to understand what real representation looks like on stage, this is your masterclass.
The Little Big Things tells a truly inspiring story about a life-altering incident, but it could be life-changing for audiences who see it, so powerful is the message that in two short hours, you may find your perspective on the world changed irreversibly.
There are big things in store for this ‘little’ homegrown musical that will capture the hearts and imaginations of many. Whether The Little Big Things turns out to be the best show of 2023 remains to be seen, but this new British musical is the best thing to happen to London theatre in years.