Photo by Maria Woodford with permission for Varsity

Imagine a scenario that sees Bridget Jones stumble onto the set of BBC sitcom Ghosts and interrupt a impromptu Mad Hatter’s tea party. That’s the vibe of Living With Sin, the brand new CUMTS musical heading to the Fringe this summer, and this reviewer approves.

With music by Joshua Newman and book by Gabrielle James, Living With Sin follows Cece (Lauren Lopez) as she solves a quarter-life crisis with a makeover. Comparisons to Queer Eye are apt, except it isn’t Tan France who arrives on Cece’s doorstep with a hairstyling brochure and a lecture on self-worth. Cece’s intervention comes from the seven deadly sins, who all happen to be squatting in her late grandmother’s house and drinking her decaf coffee. Whacky enough yet?

The musical’s long-awaited debut takes place in Theatre Deli, a short walk from Bank tube station. This is a preview, not a full show, and the stage space is clearly smaller than would be ideal for a musical with eight-person dance numbers. Set is similarly reduced to a red sofa and minimal props. Once Living With Sin gets underway, however, this limited staging capacity is quickly forgotten. Newman’s and James’ lyrics are full of playful quirks. There are topical nods to Cowspiracy, Brexit, and Instagram. One sardonic reference to Cece’s ‘dying womb’ sends a particularly strong wave of laughter across the audience.

“From the outset, this cast feels at its best as an ensemble”

Although firmly located in 2020s’ pop culture, Living With Sin is not shy about gesturing to its Broadway uncles and aunts. One stand-out musical moment that makes this apparent is ‘Pillow Talk’, a song that I want syringed into my bloodstream. Sung by Soph/Sloth (Hebe Bennett), Lex/Lust (Louella Lucas), and Emmy/Envy (Tabitha Tucker), it’s a toe-tapping hymn to the female orgasm under Burlesque-ish pink lighting. Yes, that’s every bit as good as it sounds. The lyrics ‘tick, tick, boom’, and ‘light a candle’ are lingered on just enough to acknowledge their debt to Jonathan Larson, the OG midlife crisis man of musical theatre, and the audience ripples with theatre kids’ knowing chuckles.

Another musical showstopper is Ashley Cooper’s rendition of ‘Good Days’ as Gee/Gluttony. Her soulful tone fits her character’s old soul persona with effortless vocal control, leaving me inches from embarrassing myself by demanding an encore. Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the Latin dance combo performed with fizzing chemistry by a leather-clad Rafe/Wrath (Tom Hayes) and Eadie/Greed (Lydia Clay-White). The duet is compulsively watchable.

From the outset, this cast feels at its best as an ensemble, especially during the stylised Fosse choreography of ‘Try (A Little Sin)’. Credit is due to co-choreographers Ffion Goodwin and director Ilona Sell for this triumph. Nonetheless, even surrounded by mesmerising ensemble work, Lopez does well at anchoring the musical around Cece. In particular, her drunken monologue after quitting her job offers a convincing and unsettlingly familiar impression of an existential breakdown that warrants high praise.

“What Living With Sin really needs is more breathing space for explanatory dialogue”

Costume designer, Ramisa Hassan, did a wonderful job, especially given the budget and timeframe constraints of a preview. In such a short musical, the statement choices of her Måneskin-meets-flapper-girl aesthetic played a key role in the audience’s ability to distinguish between each Sin. Special mention must go to Pride’s (Jaden Tsui) sleek lingerie-like gown complete with glittery Gatsby-style headdress, and to the green velvet opera gloves worn by Tabitha Tucker which I seriously considered stealing.

The cast, music, direction, writing, and concept of Living With Sin were all wonderful. Ultimately though, what is also clear is that this musical doesn’t lend itself easily to the tight 50 minute slots of the Edinburgh Fringe. Unlike the rock concert song cycle SIX, 2017’s fairytale Fringe success story, Living With Sin introduces eight new characters whose backstories are hardly as well-known as the wives of Henry VIII. At times, it is tricky for the audience to keep track of each cast member beyond the surface-level traits associated with their Sin.


Mountain View

Living With Sin: The Fringe’s ‘Faustian Queer Eye’

Newman and James are making the point that sin is not one dimensional, that Wrath is as much about passion as anger, and Sloth is as soothing as she is lazy; and so, it is a shame that time constraints have left that narrative complexity slashed into what is effectively a sung-through musical. What Living With Sin really needs is more breathing space for explanatory dialogue, to develop glimpses of more nuanced characterisation and to flesh out exactly how these Sins ended up in Cece’s house to begin with. One hopes it gets a post-Fringe opportunity to stretch into a longer form and answer these questions.

While I wish it was longer, anyone up at Fringe this summer would be silly to miss out on this fever-dream of a show. So, to all Edinburgh-goers using dark comedy as a coping mechanism, Living With Sin is for you.

Living with Sin is playing at various venues in theSpace, Edinburgh Fringe, 5th-27th of August. This review is of the preview version which played at Theatre Deli, London, on July 28th