Packed full of charm, a heartfelt message overcomes a largely formulaic narrative.
Great jingles are sadly lacking these days. Despite a childhood enthusiasm for memorising adverts, the closest I come to hearing them now is on Channel 4 – and they’re almost always getting muted. Yet they’re the star of the show in Georgia Rawlins and Joe Venable’s latest musical, Jingle Street, and I’m here for it. Whimsical and surprising, nostalgic yet relevant, this musical is packed full of charm and a heartfelt message that overshadows a largely formulaic narrative.
By nostalgic, I refer to the premise. When protagonist, jingle-writer Colin (Tom Hayes), finds himself afflicted by jingle fever, compelled to communicate almost exclusively in jingles, they manifest in a slightly confusing mix of old classics and some more satisfying Venable originals. Slipping the ‘Go Compare’ jingle into a show might’ve been clever in 2011, but even the real Go Compare realised the character had outstayed his welcome by the end of his run and began mocking him in their adverts. It doesn’t quite hit in 2023. However, when deployed cleverly for the benefit of audience participation, the classics fulfil their comic potential.
The setup is pleasingly whimsical and serves a greater purpose as a comment on capitalist culture that is as self-aware in its contrivedness as it is genuinely witty. Although the jingles could be more smoothly woven into the plot, many are real earworms. Often crude and morally dubious, they are well balanced by a heartfelt romance that, although predictable, offered one of the production’s stand-out moments in a heartfelt ballad about learning to love a lost cause, powerfully delivered by Hayes and his love interest Jasmine (Maddie Smith).
A sparring enemies-to-lovers clash of a corporate sell-out and a Green Party election candidate, the romance is unavoidably charming, and sold by fantastic vocals and sheer commitment to Alix Addinall’s choreography. This energy is more than matched by Emily Huxter and Xander Pang, as Parsley and Holofernes, whose subplot involves a particularly memorable song about the eternally-binding pinky swear. This is a setup we might have seen before, but it is given a new lease of life as the lyrics take surprising twists and turns and Venable shows off an impressive talent for wordplay. With love interests tangled between the two narratives, the central romance wraps itself up neatly, although teases of queer relationships could have benefited from a little more fleshing-out.
A small cast of four, for a rather large stage, the group use the space to great effect, attacking Addinall’s inventive choreography and initiating the odd moment of audience interaction that plays perfectly with the silliness of this musical – credit to both Addinall and director Mimi Pattinson for the visuals. Phenomenally talented as actors and vocalists, this quartet evidently has a lot of fun onstage, offering powerful performances in high-energy group numbers as much as they do in quieter moments.
As it becomes more absurd, the production really comes alive – think body bags and jingle contagions. Delightfully silly, these elevate the narrative beyond the formulas and push the whimsy of the musical’s setup to its full potential. As we truly leave logic behind, the largely type-driven core characters make increasing sense as familiar anchors, and the writing is at its most ambitious and interesting.
Quaint, absurd, and often laugh-out-loud, this inventive musical has something for everyone. Although a few plot lines could have been further unpacked, this musical nonetheless offers an hour of pure, ridiculous entertainment, packed with a lot of silliness and even more heart.
Jingle Street is running at Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose until 27th August. Get your tickets here!