Book and Lyrics: April de Angelis
Music and Lyrics: Lucy Rivers
Director: Michael Oakley
Many will be familiar with the famous Hogarth engraving Gin Lane, a condemnation of the evils of gin drinking in the 18th century. That picture provides the background for Gin Craze!, a “booze-soaked ballad from the women of Gin Lane”. This is a time when the poorer classes drank copious amounts of cheap and tainted gin, drunkenness was rife and crime was a major issue as people struggled to get the money for their next drink.
Gin Craze! tells the story of two women with hidden secrets, trying to make a living selling gin as an alternative to selling their bodies. Mary (Aruhan Galieva) is a servant, abandoned by both her lover and her employer when she became pregnant – then she meets Lydia (Paksie Vernon) and an unlikely friendship develops.
Having an acclaimed playwright working with a skilled lyricist, an experienced director and a hard-working cast the scene should be set for a memorable production, but Gin Craze! doesn’t quite mesh together as neatly as you’d like. The storyline has merit – this is an often-forgotten episode in our history and the plot develops quite nicely, with the usual twists and setbacks for different characters along the way. The actual dialogue, though, sometimes seems unnatural but whether it’s a result of the writing or the delivery is hard to say – clearly it’s written for its time and its characters, but it doesn’t always flow as you’d expect. The music is a good mix of pleasant ballads and bawdy street songs, with some clever, witty and very rude lyrics with lots of words – so many that it’s hard to take it all in, especially during the ensemble numbers.
This is not so much a traditional musical as a play with some interspersed songs – songs which work to establish a background of time and place but don’t always move the story on or flow out of or into the dialogue around them so it seems as though characters are stepping out of the play to sing their song, then going back into it. It all feels slightly disjointed.
That said, the eight-strong cast works hard to pull it all together, showing a good range of musical skills in the process as they provide most of the music as well. Galieva creates a pleasing Mary, never quite seeming to fit in with the bawds and sops surrounding her when she is thrown out of her position as a servant. Vernon develops the character of Lydia nicely, moving from her initial self-centred and hard-nosed attitude to life to revealing that she, too, has a soft side when she finds herself caring for someone. Alex Mugnaioni is in good voice as novelist Henry Fielding, who was a magistrate during this period, while Rosalind Ford is well cast as Suki, the woman who doesn’t care what she does to make a few more pennies to feed her drink habit. Stealing the show though, is Debbie Chazen as Moll and Queen Caroline, two very different yet written here as similar characters – proving that some things don’t change, regardless of your background or circumstances.
All in all Gin Craze! is a pleasant, if slightly unsatisfying, evening’s entertainment, though not something for delicate young ears.
Runs until 31 July 2021