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It’s always exciting to receive news of a new release from SimG Productions. SimG are without doubt the UK’s foremost label devoted to the release of new cast recordings, and promoting the work of new composers and artists. I have reviewed all of their releases since the label started a good few years ago now, and each one has been well produced, as well as containing some outstanding performances and writing.
Their latest release is a new musical love story by British writers Stuart Matthew Price & Timothy Knapman, entitled Before After. It stars West End luminaries Caroline Sheen (last seen in Mary Poppins, as well as her own solo album) & Hadley Fraser (who has appeared in Les Miserables as well as several appearances on Friday Night is Music Night for BBC Radio 2). The limited edition recording features 14 original songs and a 28 page colour booklet including all lyrics and biographies.
The premise of the musical is simple - everybody has one great lost love. What if fate gave you another chance to make it work? Do you think you’d get things right the second time around? In Before After, Ami meets Ben by a tree on a beautiful hillside. She knows him at once: he was the love of her life. But Ben doesn’t recognise her. As we watch their love grow in the past and the present, we find out why – and glimpse the hope that they might just find their happy ever after after all.
Before After was originally workshopped at the St James Theatre London in 2014, with director/dramaturg Simon Greiff and musical director Stephen Ridley, and has subsequently been produced in Japan. Indeed, the instrumental tracks used on the recording were recorded in Japan, with the vocals added later by Sheen and Fraser in London. You don’t know this is the case, the simple orchestration of piano, cello and guitar works very well, and complement the voices and songs extremely well.
The show constantly moves from Before (when they first met) to After (the present) and it’s not obvious until you read the excellent booklet that this is the case. The drawing of parallels with The Last Five Years will probably be inevitable, and you need to keep your mind on the recording if you are to properly follow the developing story. It’s a clever story, and one I would like to see played out on stage.
The songs are pleasant and it’s a very likeable easy-going score. I can’t say any of the the songs were particularly memorable, and neither did I find myself revisiting any particular song for another listen. It’s a score that works well as a piece, but for me there were no ‘hit songs’ in there. I found the humour in 'For The First Time' entertaining - and well performed on the recording - I could easily picture this being cleverly staged.
The performances on the recording are, as you would expect, pretty faultless, and provide a very convincing delivery of the piece. They are at their strongest when performing together, such as in the excellent song ’Sketches’. This, coupled with the synopsis allow a very immersive experience, and one that I can do no more than recommend to any theatre enthusiast.