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Metropolis – Ye Olde Rose and Crown, London

Book and Lyrics: Joe Brooks and Dusty Hughes
Director: Tim McArthur
Reviewer: Deborah Parry

Metropolis is one of those obscure lost musicals that, despite having had a run in the West End in the late 1980s, hasn’t seen much of the light of day since – certainly not in the UK and certainly not with a professional cast. It is particularly significant, then, that a revival has made its way to East London’s Ye Olde Rose and Crown, providing a rare opportunity to catch this interesting show.

The musical is based on the plot of a 1927 silent German film that bears the same name. It’s a familiar dystopian tale of exploited factory workers who are segregated in the lower depths, away from the elitists who dwell above them and are brutalised by the cruel inventor of the city, John Freeman (Gareth James). The system is reliant on workers powering a machine with their bodies, which is punishing and gives them no quality of life, only benefiting the elitists. Learning is forbidden but one worker, Maria (Miiya Alexander), brings light to the children through her lessons of the world above and hope to the workers through her own optimism and rebellious nature. As you can imagine, such a threat must be taken care of and a sci-fi heavy and rather gripping scenario ensues. It absolutely feels a bit like a Hunger Games and 1984 mashup, but this story predates both, so a plot that feels done to death in 2017, was probably groundbreaking in 1927.

The show isn’t sung through but is certainly song heavy, with lots of big chorus numbers and the ensemble here do an excellent job of belting out the harmonies – which is very pleasing to the ear. This is a highly competent cast, comprising mostly of recent drama school graduates and their sensitivity to the material and energy is impressive.

heavy, with lots of big chorus numbers and the ensemble here do an excellent job of belting out the harmonies – which is very pleasing to the ear. This is a highly competent cast, comprising mostly of recent drama school graduates and their sensitivity to the material and energy is impressive.

Direction by Tim McArthur is clean and crisp, reminiscent of the style of Trevor Nunn – there are no small parts and every character’s journey seems to have been examined and explored. There is sincerity in the performances before us, none more so than that given by newcomer Miiya Alexander. She has been extremely well cast in the role of Maria/Futura and does an excellent job of bringing us Maria’s innocence and strength, with a believable naivety. Her voice is beautiful and lark-like and she gives meaning to every word uttered and every note sung.

Costume design by Joana Dias is great – really helping create a feeling of a believable dystopian world without slipping into cliches. There are dresses that look slightly unfamiliar but not so much so that they become pantomime. Set design by Justin Williams and Jonny Rust is also incredibly effective – sheets of plastic work well as futuristic computer panels and a projected video is great as a Big Brother Skype type thing.

When it was first staged in London, Metropolis wasn’t successful at the box office but that does not mean that the material itself was the reason for this. Many musicals end up being adapted from films merely because of the popularity of the source material, Metropolis is one of those obscure lost musicals that, despite having had a run in the West End in the late 1980s, hasn’t seen much of the light of day since – certainly not in the UK and certainly not with a professional cast. It is particularly significant then that a revival has made its way to East London’s Ye Olde Rose and Crown, providing a rare opportunity to catch this interesting show.

The musical is based on the plot of a 1927 silent German film that bears the same name. It’s a familiar dystopian tale of exploited factory workers who are segregated in the lower depths, away from the elitists who dwell above them and are brutalised by the cruel inventor of the city, John Freeman (Gareth James). The system is reliant on workers powering a machine with their bodies, which is punishing and gives them no quality of life, only benefiting the elitists. Learning is forbidden but one worker, Maria (Miiya Alexander), brings light to the children through her lessons of the world above and hope to the workers through her own optimism and rebellious nature. As you can imagine, such a threat must be taken care of and a sci-fi heavy and rather gripping scenario ensues. It absolutely feels a bit like a Hunger Games and 1984 mashup, but this story predates both, so a plot that feels done to death in 2017, was probably groundbreaking in 1927.

The show isn’t sung through but is certainly song heavy, with lots of big chorus numbers and the ensemble here do an excellent job of belting out the harmonies – which is very pleasing to the ear. This is a highly competent cast, comprising mostly of recent drama school graduates and their sensitivity to the material and energy is impressive.

Direction by Tim McArthur is clean and crisp, reminiscent of the style of Trevor Nunn – there are no small parts and every character’s journey seems to have been examined and explored. There is sincerity in the performances before us, none more so than that given by newcomer Miiya Alexander. She has been extremely well cast in the role of Maria/Futura and does an excellent job of bringing us Maria’s innocence and strength, with a believable naivety. Her voice is beautiful and lark-like and she gives meaning to every word uttered and every note sung.

Costume design by Joana Dias is great – really helping create a feeling of a believable dystopian world without slipping into cliches. There are dresses that look slightly unfamiliar but not so much so that they become pantomime. Set design by Justin Williams and Jonny Rust is also incredibly effective – sheets of plastic work well as futuristic computer panels and a projected video is great as a Big Brother Skype type thing.

When it was first staged in London, Metropolis wasn’t successful at the box office but that does not mean that the material itself was the reason for this. Many musicals end up being adapted from films merely because of the popularity of the source material, and not because they are a natural fit on the stage but, with this piece, it feels like a certain theatricality within the story has inspired its creation. It is a challenging piece and takes an amount of bravery to tackle, making this revival even more impressive and worthy of a venture out to Walthamstow to watch – one not to miss.

Runs until 29 October 2017 | Image: Contributed

Book and Lyrics: Joe Brooks and Dusty Hughes Director: Tim McArthur Reviewer: Deborah Parry Metropolis is one of those obscure lost musicals that, despite having had a run in the West End in the late 1980s, hasn't seen much of the light of day since – certainly not in the UK and certainly not with a professional cast. It is particularly significant, then, that a revival has made its way to East London's Ye Olde Rose and Crown, providing a rare opportunity to catch this interesting show. The musical is based on the plot of a 1927 silent German film that bears the…

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