Book: Tim Firth
Director: Peter Rowe
Musical Director: Dai Watts
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
The power of musical theatre is that it can be endless re-conceived. A recent trend has been to take large blockbuster productions and give them a small-scale, chamber musical makeover. One popular way of downsizing is to combine cast and orchestra. It’s a technique that places such as the Watermill Newbury and the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich have built a reputation for, and here the New Wolsey turn the Madness musical Our House into a small-scale actor musician production.
The juke box musical may be much maligned but Our House has always bucked the trend with a strong story that utilises the theatricality of the Madness original songs to great effect. The story of how one split second decision can lead to two very different outcomes gives this musical real bite. The choices Joe Casey makes on the night of his 16th birthday will impact not just the Camden lad but his family and friends.
It’s an ambitious project to tackle on a small-scale – the complex doubling and interwoven time lines needing split second timing and energy to pull off. Peter Rowe’s production tries valiantly but overall falls somewhat short. The main issue is with the actor musician format itself. The genre works best when the musicians are integrated into the action, here the cast are impressive with their musical versatility but for the majority of the show stand playing on the side of the stage. That separation also means the actual playing area is somewhat cramped, hindering the full on ensemble numbers such as Baggy Trousers and Wings of a Dove from expanding into the exuberant numbers they need to be.The Camden Market scene, with its lampooning ofOliver!, remains a musical theatre highlight, however, Mark Walters over-large set for the New Wolsey stage means it lacks space to be able to fully ignite the stage.
Having the band onstage also causes challenges for sound balance and here, even in the relative intimacy of the New Wolsey auditorium, it’s often a challenge to hear the lyrics clearly.
Alexis Gerrerd’s Joe (or should it be Joe’s) is full of teenage bravado, a trait that sometimes makes it difficult to warm to the character, nut Gerrerd sings well and handles the numerous split-second costume changes with aplomb. It’s harder, however, to believe in the pivotal relationship between Joe and his long term love Sarah (Daniella Bowen). While individually both give strong performances there’s little chemistry between the pair. There’s fine comic support from James Haggie and Alex Spinney as Emmo and Lewis and also scene stealing performances from Natasha Lewis and Dominique Planter as the feisty Bille and Angie. Sean Needham’s Dad, the central narrator of the piece, is somewhat underplayed and again suffers from lack of diction.
Apart from a gloriously energetic finale, overall Peter Rowe’s production suffers from a general lack of pace. Scenes that should flow seamlessly are interrupted by slow scene changes that rob the show of its much needed dramatic escalation. Will Dukes projections and Ben Cracknell’s lighting inject visual excitement but even these seem designed for a much larger stage. While some of the problems may be solved as the show tours to larger venues, at its home venue the cramped and cluttered staging threatens to derail the show.
In the end the plot and the classic Madness numbers win over the audience but it proves to be an enjoyable if adequate production rather than the celebratory piece the source material offers.
Runs until 5th October then tours the UK
Photo: Mike Kwasniak