Bryce ‘Back to Basics’ is an entertaining and thoughtful cabaret. Featuring the best of Halliday’s original songs and a couple of covers, he shares stories from his childhood, his pet peeves, and a few interesting historical facts (for some reason).
Halliday, last seen at the Hayes in his On The Spot Musical (a longform improv musical live on stage) is charismatic and open with the audience, creating a captivating atmosphere for the show. His songs embrace a diverse range of sounds, from heartfelt ballads to comic, up-tempo piano numbers. He even incorporates a soundboard, which adds an extra sonic layer to his compositions. He is accompanied by a lively band (Bernard Lagana, Stewart Kirwan, Sam Blackburn and David Muratore), though occasionally Halliday’s vocals are swallowed up by this liveliness.
Halliday has a knack for writing novelty songs without sacrificing depth and perceptivity for laughs. ‘I Know Better Than You Do’ thoughtfully and humorously examined the obnoxiousness of societal trends; ranging from the latest superfood to new child-rearing techniques. The following song, ‘Important Shit’, provided thoughtful reflections on the nature of the arbitrary lessons we’re taught by schools, our families and society, contrasted to the more important lessons we learn ourselves through experience.
The penultimate song ‘Be Merry’, the real highlight of the cabaret, was a touching reflection on life’s fleeting moments and a reminder to enjoy these moments while they last, small as they may be.
Halliday knows how to structure a cabaret; he has taken care to ebb and flow between ballads and upbeat numbers, with calculating and effective choice of numbers that don’t feel laboured as he transitions from piano or autoharp alone to the fuller sound of his dynamic band.
While Halliday and band’s sound (with arrangements by Halliday and Lagana) was consistent and cohesive, the book wasn’t. His patter seemed thematically divorced from the music. Even when it was interesting – who doesn’t want to hear about a famous assassination at a cabaret? – some of the dialogue seemed out of place in a show about Halliday. If the anecdotes were supposed to be closely connected to the music, or to Halliday’s life in some way, then the connection perhaps could have been more explicit; the only real miss of the show was the odd disconnect between script and setlist.
Halliday is a witty and insightful performer and his songs are engaging and fun, with a little bit of very welcome reflection. He may not be going ‘back to basics’ in the traditional cabaret sense, but as a show that’s not entirely comedy and a little more personal, Back to Basics is a curious and engaging production.