Elle is a graphic designer. Charlie is a musician-songwriter.
They’ve been inseparable since high school. But now they’re half a world apart, conducting their relationship via Skype and messaging apps.
Sexting can relieve some of the tension, they’ve discovered, but it can only bring you so close.
Written by its stars, Ashleigh Taylor and Ben Bennett, The Life of Us is an appealing slice of pop-musical drama, somewhat in the vein of Jason Robert Brown’s Off-Broadway hit The Last Five Years, though less tricksy in terms of structure.
The story opens with Ellie and Charlie on different sides of the planet and keenly feeling the distance. She’s in Sydney, struggling to balance her graphic design work with caring for her mother Grace (Pippa Grandison), who is succumbing to early-onset dementia.
Charlie, meanwhile, is in London, living a relatively carefree existence on the fringes of the music biz with his best mate since childhood and manager Mike (Christian Charisiou).
As Ellie’s plight deepens and Charlie’s songwriting catches the ears of a major label, the proposed dates for a reunion is continually put back. Christmas gives way to Valentine’s Day. Before you know it, six months have past … then Charlie gets the break he’s always longed for.
Directed by Neil Gooding on a densely detailed set (by Lauren Peters) that serves as two domestic realms – often in the same moment – this 90-minute show doesn’t add much to the sum of knowledge about the perils of the long-distance relationship. Nevertheless, it’s sweet, honest and gently funny. The scenes sketching out Grace’s decline are particularly well written.
Taylor and Bennett perform strongly together despite making no eye contact until late in the show. The depth of Ellie and Charlie’s emotional connection is apparent in their fine vocal harmonies, however.
Charisiou is winningly boisterous as Mike and Grandison brings her acting and vocal strengths to the role of Grace, most notably in a poignantly lucid moment you suspect may be her last.
The songs are good, with a couple of them memorably hooky. Make Her Mine, the tune Charlie writes to catch the ear of a record company, is right in the pocket for someone with a mind to be the next Lewis Capaldi/Ed Sheeran-style troubadour.
The band (under arranger and musical director Nicholas Griffin, playing orchestrations by Mitchell Sloan) kick pleasingly hard when required, and sound designer David Bergman does some clever work turning it into a stadium act.
This is Taylor and Bennett’s first collaboration as a writing partnership. Sometimes it shows. Mostly it doesn’t. It bodes well for the next.