On Your Bike is the new musical from Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society, and I have to admit that the wider theatrical success of one of their earlier shows “Six” played its part in this one being on my review list.
The promotional material for this show really does not do it justice as at first glance a story based around food delivery employees, a chicken shop owner, and a face from the past, just seems to be limited in scope. Having been curious, and having no idea what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is actually very well written and working on many levels of story telling and music.
As we follow Gemma, Aidan, Felicity and Daisy through a short moment in their lives, some serious questions about the employment conditions of not only the delivery drivers, but the whole “gig economy” start to come into focus and we all have to start to recognise the unsustainability of employment based on these working conditions.
There are also underlying harder story lines to deal with here – a young girl forced to leave her family home and facing potential homelessness, trying to fight a corporate giant, a faceless algorithm, and animal welfare (or woeful lack of it) in the fast food industry. Into all of this mix, we also have a little humour. All of these elements do mean that there is some depth written into our characters, but Gemma in particular needs to see her story expanded. This is perhaps also a problem with the show, maybe too many boxes are trying to be ticked at once and some don’t fit in too well with the overall upbeat theme of the show, and at the moment these darker elements that are in the lyrics of the songs and the script need more emotional interpretation from the cast.
There is an interesting difference of perspectives here too. If you are lucky enough to be as young as the cast here you can relate easily to that hope that light is just around the corner and no matter what the problems may be they can be solved. If you are older looking back in time, you can re-capture a little bit of what that maybe felt like at the time, but also this show makes you realise that even then everything was far from perfect at times.
There are too few musical shows out there at any time that are starting from the beginning and creating new music and songs for the show, and anyone who is doing this needs supported. The music here is covering many styles and the lyrics are well written to their characters and scenes. Although there is nothing revolutionary in the way the building blocks to make a piece of musical theatre are assembled in this show, they are well assembled.
The format of this show could date itself rather quickly though and the barely disguised corporate names could do with a little more imagination to them. Having said that though, I hope that this show gets a chance to expand outside of the Fringe, as with small tweaks here and there it would be interesting to see this one on a limited theatrical tour, even if the title of the show and the subject matter could make it a difficult ticket sale to non-Fringe audiences. The actual potential of the story and the characters is actually far stronger than the main theme here, and the courier delivery aspect of this show could easily be moved into the background to allow the real story of our foursome to reach its full potential.
In the end though, I just hope that the cast/crew of the show are not ordering a courier delivery of food after the show to celebrate their full house tonight…that would be carrying irony a little too far.
Review by Tom King (c)
ARTS REVIEWS EDINBURGH