The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Takes Oral Evidence on Whitehall’s Relationship with Kids Company
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This musical about the collapse of the charity Kids Company is fascinating, albeit lacking in big tunes
This verbatim musical based on a committee hearing about the infamous collapse of Kids Company won't win any prizes for pithiest title. But it’s an innovative and timely dramatisation of a case that epitomises the contemporary politics of poverty.
Nobody emerges with much credit from the hearing, which took place in a House of Commons committee room on 15 October 2015. The two people at its centre, Kids Company founder Camila Batmanghelidjh and chair Alan Yentob, come across as well-intentioned but painfully out of their depth. In Adam Penford’s production they largely sit in front of the panel with their backs to the audience, their faces projected on screens like criminals in the dock.
Donmar artistic director Josie Rourke co-wrote the book and lyrics with actor Hadley Fraser, and they’ve done a good job of filleting the three-hour enquiry to a digestible 80 minutes. Composer Tom Deering sets various phrases from the session to music, but unlike its genre forebear 'London Road', it isn’t sung through. The cast sing largely by way of emphasis: 'We want to learn,' the committee croon in close harmony; 'This is not a show trial,' sings chairman Bernard Jenkin MP (Alexander Hanson), somewhat patronisingly. A chorus of disapproval.
Unfortunately, the music is largely featureless. It lacks any real tonal variation, and the pseudo-operatic style soon grows repetitive. It isn’t until the closing moments that we’re finally given something of substance as Batmanghelidjh (a superb Sandra Marvin) sings a moving ode to the nation’s 'catastrophically abandoned' children.
But flawed though it may be this is still a show to be admired, delivered with great skill and judgement. That none of the performances ever slip into parody is testament to a production that treats its subject with the respect it deserves. After all, the real tragedy of Kids Company, we're reminded, is of the children left floundering in the wreckage.