Home / Musical / Our House – New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Our House – New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Music: Madness

Book: Tim Firth

Director: Peter Rowe

Musical Director: Dai Watts

Reviewer: Glen Pearce

[rating:2.5]

Our House performing Wings Of A Dove. Photo Mike KwasniakThe 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

 

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4 comments

  1. Avatar

    Sounds great.

  2. Avatar

    Have to agree with Mike Kwasniak in that this was rather disappointing compared to other musicals put on by the Wolsey. It did not help the afternoon by having a rather manic women sitting close by who laughed out louder than was necessary, and whooped and hollered at every opportunity and insisted in talking to her male partner in a loud voice all through the show.He looked suitably embarrassed by her behaviour. Hopefully she will read these comments and realise that she must change her behaviour for future visits. Meanwhile back to the show. There seemed to be a lack of fizz to the story and it failed to hold my attention throughout the whole play. Overall a musical that seemed to be put on by a High School Drama Class rather than professional actors.

  3. Avatar
    Richard Clayton

    I feel Mike Kwasniak’s review above is a little harsh, at least from the production I saw. There was energy, no lack of pace, the scene changes were of sufficient speed and the plot engaging. However, the review is spot on in terms of the role of the father being underplayed and, not for the first time at Wolsey, the backing music causing some of the words to be lost.

  4. Avatar
    Paul Monkhouse

    A review is a purely personal opinion so I respect Glen Pearce’s right to air his own thoughts on this production based on that criteria. He makes some good observations but I do however disagree with a lot of what he’s said as I feel it in no way does justice to one of the finest and most enjoyable productions I’ve seen at the New Wolsey. Having now seen the production again (so impressed by it I had to take my son for a second visit) and from the benefit of being in Row D, I can say that what I’ve witnessed was superb performances by all involved, great music and a storyline that tugged at the heartstrings and had real soul and grit. While there WERE some slight issues with sound at the start of the first performance I saw these small kinks had been ironed out by the time of my return four days later. I felt there was fantastic chemistry between Alexis Gerred and Daniella Bowen and that Rebecca Bainbridge and Sean Needham were superb as Joe’s mother and father. Saying that the latter was underplayed is I feel somewhat missing the unsaid ambiguity of how the character guides and appears to Joe. It’s never stated exactly in what form the father takes and it’s down to the audience to formulate their own idea. Rather than going for a performance that could border on the melodramatic I think Sean Needham’s portrayal reflects Joe’s memory and perception of his father rather than a genuine reflection of the man himself. I felt it was much more a case of being thoughtfully subtle rather than underplayed and some of the performances of the four main characters moved me to tears. I admit to laughing, crying, singing and dancing and will certainly try to catch the show once again before it heads off on tour and will doubtless enjoy every minute. In my eleven years writing music and theatre reviews for various publications it’s certainly one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever seen….well, that’s my opinion.