Writer: Tim Firth
Director: Ros Philips
Musical Director: Andrew Linham
Choreographer: Nancy Kettle
“The London Musical” is a great choice for The Queen’s 2016 Community Show.
It’s lively, it’s a crowd-pleaser, and, like most of the company, and the audience, and indeed Madness themselves, it has its roots just down the road in NW1.
The Community Musical has a long tradition at the Queen’s. Every other year, a performing company is formed from scratch, to work with professional creatives – the aim is to get local people involved in the vibrant life of their local playhouse. This year’s cast numbers more than 50, and includes people of all ages from East London and Essex as well as Havering.
Directed by Ros Philips, they fill the stage with school kids and convicts, bringing Las Vegas and Camden Market to life on the huge Queen’s stage. James Watson’s versatile set features a semi-transparent terrace for Casey Street, with spinning black/white doors for the crucial choices. The familiar numbers are in the safe hands of Andrew Linham’s superb band, proudly wearing red sparkly bowlers, with pit prop bric-a-brac spilling over into their house, too.
But on opening night there were issues with balance, meaning that dialogue and lyrics were lost; they are helpful, even to those of us who know the show well, to keep the ingeniously plotted narrative on course.
Every member of the company makes a unique contribution to the success of Our House, from the diminutive denim dancers to Joe’s Dad – Paul Robinson an imposing figure in his ghostly suit. Joe Watch makes a convincingly confused school-leaver; Becky Smith is Sarah, the girl he almost loses. Fine character work from the vacuous Angie and Billie (Hayley Sanderson and Lauren Sanders), and their male counterparts, “gormless prats” Emmo and Lewis (Oliver Barry-Brook and Conor Dye). A lovely warm performance from Kerry Lawson as Kath – her big number is a musical highlight. Forces of darkness include Jenson Grech’s slimeball Reecey and Mandy Lyes’ forbidding Pressman.
Plenty of energy in the big ensembles, though the choreography tends to be static, and some excellent staging: Camden Market, the Nightboat to Cairo with the puppet lovers, and the grey stripes of the prison contrasting with the rose-tinted dream overhead.
A rapturous reception from the first-night fans, cheers and applause sustained through the megamix curtain calls. But disco dazzle and Mexican waves are no substitute for real emotional engagement with the characters and their moral dilemmas, only occasionally achieved in this ambitious community venture.
Runs until 31 July 2016 | Image: Mark Sepple