There is a moment at the end of Hamilton (Lewis) where one of the cast members says that there is no moral to the story as such, and that this production is what happens when the title precedes the rest of the writing process. This kind of on-the-fly thinking from King’s Heads Theatre proves to be something of a mixed bag, reaching various highs to some more average moments… much like Lewis Hamilton’s racing career in fact.
Very quickly something becomes clear with this show: you need to be either a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda’ Hamilton, Formula One, or ideally both. This is the story of Britain’s most successful racing driver retold through the songs of the hit Broadway musical, vaguely mirroring Hamilton’s plot-line along the way. This includes a focus on Hamilton’s personal feuds with once-teammate Fernando Alonso (wonderfully caricatured here), and his ex-girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger. Even his pet bulldog Rosco gets a mention.
This is where problems start. The story spends a long time focusing on Hamilton’s various battles with those around him and forgets to chart his successes with much coherence, or even accuracy. Followers of F1 will bemoan a number of apparent mistakes in the retelling of Hamilton’s career since his 2007 debut, and a number of glaring omissions (his Mercedes teammate and childhood friend Nico Rosberg for instance). This would be fine if the spoken scenes felt significant and witty, but they don’t. They are funny enough, and they feel forced, like the cast are running through the motions to set up the next musical number. These scenes are frequently cut short and feature barely explained niche references to the likes of Ron Dennis (former McLaren team boss) and Kimi Räikkönen (who beat Hamilton to the 2007 world title).
The singing and dancing though are utterly fantastic. The company fits an impressive number of songs into a short production, and you barely notice that the lyrics are occasionally modified from the original Hamilton to stay within the time frame. Various harmonies and duets are spellbinding to listen to, and the choreography of the dancing can switch from graceful to slapstick with ease, depending on what the performers want to communicate. The highlight is probably the introduction of the Pussycat Dolls, so ridiculously funny and unashamedly taking the mick of Sherzinger. It is almost worthy of a show in and of itself.
For those lacking awareness of both the sport and the musical, the show will lack clarity but will not be beyond your grasp. Those who sit near the front may want more use made of the various toy race cars at the front of the stage, but the show manages to be lively enough during its musical set pieces to keep everyone’s attention regardless of their prior knowledge. Whether you are a fan of Hamilton and… well, Hamilton, this show is more accessible than its title may suggest. If anything, a certain lack of awareness can make you forgiving of some of the flaws, and so might actually make the show more enjoyable.
Hamilton (Lewis) clearly loves the musical far more than it loves the sport or its main character. As a tribute to Miranda’s global phenomenon this is fantastic; a brilliantly performed play on her work that has full respect for the original material. As a retelling of Hamilton’s career, however, it will leave the knowledgeable (or nerdy) members of the audience a bit disappointed. Like a tyre clawing for grip on a wet racetrack, this doesn’t get as good a hold of the F1 driver’s life as it should.
Assembly George Square Studios – One (Venue 17)
11-26 August (Not 15 & 22)
Photo Credit: King’s Head Theatre