Beyond the Fence review – computer-created show is sweetly bland – The Guardian

Plenty of musicals written by humans sound as if they have been composed by a machine. But guess what? When you get a computer to create a musical, as Sky Arts has done – using data compiled from the structure, scores and scripts of hundreds of musicals to generate scenario, melodies and many of the lyrics – it sounds just like a musical composed by a computer. Even when humans curate it. This show is as bland, inoffensive, and pleasant as a warm milky drink.

The software appears to have an extensive knowledge of Mills & Boon-style novellas but zero grasp of 1980s feminism and the Greenham Common women’s peace camp. A pity, because that’s where it’s set.

Beyond the Fence often veers beyond belief as it introduces Mary (CJ Johnson) and her friends at Green Gate – an alternative family complete with mumsy surrogate Margie (Annie Wensak). There are resentments and tensions (largely because of all of those bolshie unsympathetic lesbians), but everyone bonds over cake (it seems Greenham was just like The Great British Bake Off with added activism), and unstructured Isadora Duncan dancing in wellies (unintentionally funny).

Christine Allado as Girlie, CJ Johnson as Mary and Laura Jane Mathewson as Helen. Beyond the Fence

Christine Allado as Girlie, CJ Johnson as Mary and Laura Jane Mathewson as Helen. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

But, of course, everyone is really supportive of each other (fat is definitely a feminist issue) and of Mary’s young daughter, George, mute since she saw her father attacking her mum. Will George find her voice? Will Mary find love with the brooding US army captain, Jim, who harbours a secret sorrow?

A strong cast give the piece some welly, but using elements that a computer has identified as key for musical success leads to a dated middle-of-the-road show full of pleasant middle-of-the-road songs, along with a risibly stereotypical scenario and characters. With thousands protesting against the renewal of Trident, this could have had currency. Instead, it’s bland and a bit silly.

At Arts theatre, London, until 5 March. Box office: 020-7836 8463.


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