“The objective of this session/Is not to conduct a show trial,” sings the committee of MPs, “We want to learn/We want to learn/We want to learn”. Not a show trial maybe but now a theatrical show.
Hadley Fraser and Josie Rourke, the Donmar’s artistic director, have fashioned a book and lyrics that are based on transcripts of the evidence session in October 2015 when Camila Batmanghelidjh, the CEO and founder of Kids Company and Alan Yentob, chair of the trustees (and BBC grandee) were grilled about the financial (mis)management of the company that had received some £42 million from successive governments, including a final £3 million bailout just before its collapse in the previous August. The questioning is interspersed with testimony from others involved (employees, a deputy children’s commissioner, Oliver Letwin et al) – some of it favourable, much of it not.
The idea is an interesting one - a verbatim musical - but these sorts of pieces rather live or die upon whether you find the source material gripping enough and whether you believe that the characters might feel passionate enough to actually burst into song about it. Sure, Kids Company saw a vital need to protect vulnerable children and young people in inner cities and they were passionate about doing just that. And the select committee maybe felt some passionate that they shouldn't have allowed self-referrals or simply given large amounts of cash in brown envelopes. But I can't help but wonder if a straightforward drama might have put these issues across more forcefully than a musical format. The writing was brave (we like brave), adventurous (we like adventurous) but ultimately not quite the winning formula it could have been. It need just a little more oomph.