Director: James Tobias
Writer: Tim Firth
Music: Madness (and Labbi Siffre)
Choreographer: Fabian Aloise
Reviewer: Fraser MacDonald
With commercial theatre’s love for jukebox musicals showing no real signs of slowing, Our House hits UK theatres, touring the country for the fourth time since its inception in 2002.
Following Camden schoolboy Joe Casey, Our House explores family, love and the wrong side of the law in this coming-of-age Madness mash-up.
As with most musicals of this genre, Our House is sickly sweet and at times its contrived story verges on comical. With no attempt to veil a force-fed moral lecture, the piece has some serious structural difficulties which are difficult for its cast to overcome.
In places, the show is clever but clumsy scene changes and poor lighting detract from any atmosphere that these moments of hope create. Lighting is a particular issue of this production with many actors only partially lit or caught in shadows; this is clearly beyond any dramatic effect and an issue the production team would do well to address.
It is impressive that the show is produced with just four live musicians. It is also, however, a pity that the audience are subjected to an acoustic assault with the sheer volume at which the band is relayed. Often completely overpowering the performers on stage, a decibel deluge does no favours for the production or its otherwise talented musicians.
Volume excess is less of an issue, admittedly, when Cath Casey (Deena Payne) and Dad (Callum McArdle) perform. With generally weak performances, these actors play key roles in the storyline yet fail to make any real positive impact on the drama on stage.
Similarly, although his ability in dance is undisputed, the decision to cast George Sampson as Reecey is short sighted as his performance is otherwise forgettable.
The absolution to these cardinal sins, however, is derived from the music. Madness may not be known for their vast array of hits – and there are only a few of real note – their back catalogue serves as a manageable backdrop for this tale. A real boost is injected to the production with the performance of Our House, House of Fun and Baggy Trousers; songs that many will know.
Jason Kajdi, main protagonist and unquestionable star of the show, proves to be a powerhouse who is as comfortable in slapstick as he is in straight scenes, in dance and in delivering a solid vocal performance. His energy is palpable and makes a wholly decent impression on his audience. Similarly, Sophie Matthew, in her professional debut, offers a taste of what will undoubtedly be a fruitful career. Coupled with Kajdi, their version of Labbi Siffre’s It Must Be Love is the real highlight of the show and a genuinely moving moment.
Our House cannot deliver the sustained delight of other band-specific musicals like Let It Be or Sunny Afternoon, but the production does boast some sincere and clever moments. It may still be a while away from truly finding its feet, but it will not disappoint the many Madness fans that will undoubtedly pay it a visit.
Runs until 30 September 2017, then touring | Image: Contributed