The Story of My Life is a glowing example of what Adelaide’s Feast Festival has to offer; while it’s not the kind of mainstream musical that could book out the Festival Theatre like Ghost or Dirty Dancing can, it contributes something poignant and special to the musical theatre realm by exploring the critical, but underrepresented, theme of friendship.
The show begins with Thomas Weaver (Paul Rodda) desperately trying to write a eulogy for his childhood friend, Alvin Kelby (David Salter). As he searches through his memory for a story to tell or kind words to say, he also searches for something else – the moment where Alvin’s life started to hurtle off course, the moment he should have intervened, the moment that would help him make sense of his friend’s abrupt departure. Thomas begins to rifle through the carefully organised library of his mind with Alvin (or Thomas’ memory of him) pushing him forward into memories that Thomas had tried to bury.
While the show deals with heavy issues like abandonment and suicide, many of the memories the two explore are happy or silly, which lifts the show out of its morbid territory. With their skilful use of repetition and a fractured storyline, writers Neil Bartram and Brian Hill have created a stream-of-consciousness while also maintaining a clear narrative – a balance which can be difficult to strike.
The self-conscious and driven Thomas contrasts well with the free-spirited, lonely Alvin, and, while the latter sometimes crosses over into stereotypical “manic pixie dream boy” territory (I don’t think many 14-year-old boys, no matter how free and individual, would giggle delightedly while pretending to be a butterfly), his enduring loyalty to Thomas despite their different lives makes him a powerful and sympathetic character.
David Selter and Paul Rodda have built a strong connection as Alvin and Thomas, portraying their characters at different stages of life and different stages of friendship with apparent ease despite the daunting task of being onstage for almost the entire show. Although opening night featured quite a few mishaps, from falling chairs to splitting costumes, the two powered through. There were a few pitchy moments in their vocal performances, but both perform with such vocal character that this is easily forgivable.
With its moving storyline and strong performances, the only things that take slightly away from the production are the sound and lighting. The performers’ headset mics were muffled at times, particularly when the two were embracing (which, in a show about two best friends, happens fairly often), and the lights often lit up the audience in an attempt to light up the stage, which can often be distracting and uncomfortable.
Tech issues aside, The Story of My Life is certainly worth a watch. In his notes in the program, Director David Gauci confesses that he “is” Alvin Kelby, but that hardly seems like a surprising confession; anyone who has felt left behind, lonely or different will likely see themselves in Alvin, and anyone who has ever felt the guilt that comes from leaving someone behind will sympathise with Thomas. Most people, I’d wager, will see a little of themselves in both.