Book: Ollie Mills and Rachel Mann
Music/Lyrics/Director: Ollie Mills
There are few things tricker in theatre than creating a new musical. Weaving an accessible plot and empathetic characters together with music unfamiliar to the audience. Unfamiliar music which still needs to instantly land and spark emotion. Add in the technical elements and it’s no wonder the best musicals take many months, or even years, to bring to the stage.
Realms of Glory is, sadly, an example of a show which needs much, much more time in development. It promises big but largely fails to deliver. Set in Manchester as Christmas 1940 approaches, the wartime musical tells the tale of widows Lizzie (Amelia Simpson) and Mavis (Rebecca McAuley). Bombs descend on the city and Lizzie reminisces about her ill-fated marriage to RAF pilot Bob (Alex Cosgriff).
There are ghosts from the past, flashbacks, an unopened letter and the threat of impending danger from the Nazi attack. It’s a generally heart-warming, if predictable, story from Ollie Mills and Rachel Mann. The characters are both well-drawn and satisfyingly complex. However, it doesn’t sustain the full two-act running time. The small cast try their best to lift the material but it’s pretty ploddy.
Aside from one toe-tapping big band number, the tunes are fairly forgettable and quite maudlin.Not every musical requires big numbers or hummable tunes, but they do need to deliver both light and shade. The music in Realms of Glory is almost exclusively shade, although Mavis (Rebecca McAuley) and Jim (Ben Kawalec) do perform a cute number after the birth of their child.
On a more positive note, Manchester’s 53Two theatre, under the arches of Deansgate Castlefield, is the perfect space to recreate the Manchester blitz. Sandbags and crates adorn the stage where a period gramophone occasionally crackles spookily into life.
Cabaret seating, a live piano for Musical Director Joe Clayton, plus hanging yarn and wood complete the atmospheric mood. There is some nice direction from Ollie Mills, a gentle shuffle in the rain choreographed by Vicki Healy and clever use of torches to recreate the war searchlights.
As Mavis, McAuley has fabulous comic delivery. However, the combination of thoughtful, pretty lead and comedy best friend feels really cliched. Alex Cosgriff is likeable as Bob.
The biggest issue, at least on opening night, is the pretty disastrous audio. A distracting hum buzzes continuously from the speakers, mics constantly crackle and fade in and out missing key lines of dialogue. Even putting aside first-night gremlins, the decision to mic up the small cast in a small room must be questioned. Every hug is soundtracked with a loud bang as the mics crash and you can hear members of the cast breathing between scenes.
At best, poor audio and unnecessary amplification put a barrier between the audience and the emotion being created. At worst, they lead to an awkward clash of both mumbling delivery and excruciating screaming. It’s a real shame. Solving the audio issues and an injection of wartime swing would certainly lift Realms of Glory but it could really do with a little longer in development.
Runs until: 22 December 2022