Review: Open Mic, Soho Theatre (online)

Rob Drummond’s latest show moves the concept of an open mic night online and gives people the opportunity to come together and share their art in a celebration of community, storytelling, music and comedy. 

Hosted by Rob Drummond live from the Soho Theatre’s Cabaret Space, this interactive show features a wealth of talent from artists including singers, comedians and poets. Over the course of the 90 minute press night seven performers present their work in what Drummond insisted is a safe space. Naomi from Croydon is up first with a beautiful rendition of Sam Smith’s ‘Lay Me Down’. Jessica from Walthamstow then performs a cover of Jack White’s ‘The Same Boy You’ve Always Known’, before comedian Ted lightens the mood with his comedy routine featuring excel presentations about American presidents. Elsewhere regular open mic artist Christy reads some of her powerful poetry, Sophie takes on Queen’s Somebody to Love, Ian presents his original song Squeeze, and Val sings a folk song acapella. 

Jean Chan’s set is a nice touch, with cabaret tables set out with dummies sat at them, a reminder of the missing in-person audience, while large video screens around the stage featuring the performers and other audience members. With Open Mic viewers have the choice of whether to watch over zoom or instead stream the show online. For the most part the Zoom option works, other than minor technical issues, and viewers streaming the show are able to witness people’s reactions to the acts. But what lets the production down at first is that the Zoom audience are muted unless they’re spoken to, so the atmosphere is a little subdued. The beauty of traditional open mic nights is that performers can often get instant feedback on their work, but it isn’t until Ted was into his set that the audience are unmuted and the comedian is finally able to hear the laughter. 

With direction from Richard Twyman, this is a show of two halves. At first the atmosphere is quite upbeat, and certainly there are a good variety of acts to keep the audience entertained. In between the performances Drummond interacts with the audiences, questioning them on their experiences of the pandemic, how they’ve found lockdown and whether they’ve broken any of the lockdown rules. In addition he also speaks of his own experiences of lockdown, how his mental health has suffered and how he misses his friends. His open and honest admissions are quite effective at first, and certainly the discussions with the performers about their struggles over the past 12 months are thought-provoking, and highlight just how the pandemic has had an impact on everyone’s lives. But there are times when this interaction becomes awkward, and certainly not the light-hearted atmosphere you might expect from an open mic night.Certainly towards the end of the show things take a negative turn, jokes falling flat and a tension creeping in, and suddenly the promise of a safe space feels like it may not be the case. While the final interaction is certainly thought-provoking and makes you question everything you’ve seen up until then, it feels mistimed given that people are still dying from covid every day.

Open Mic is certainly an innovative concept with a lot of potential, and there are some good performances from the artists. Likewise it includes important conversations about mental health, and any show which highlights the importance of talking about our feelings should be commended. But on the whole this show falls short of providing the positivity we need during these strange times. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Open Mic Night is playing until 3 April 2021.

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