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The Famous Five: A New Musical – Theatr Clwyd, Mold

Reviewer: John McRoberts

Book: Elinor Cook

Music & Lyrics: Theo Jamieson

Director: Tamara Harvey

There’s something quite delightful going on over at Theatr Clywd this autumn. While the nights are going colder and darker, there is still a blast of sunshine coming from the main stage where Elinor Cook, Theo Jamieson and Tamara Harvey’s new fun-filled family-friendly musical of The Famous Five brings much delight to the all-age audience watching.

People may be expecting an adaptation of one of the Famous Five escapades, but this is a modern take on Blyton’s quintet. This is an origin story of how the five became “famous” and how two sides of a family came together – there is an almost “anytime” feel to the placing of the timeframe the musical portrays but certain elements of the show, firmly root it in a more subdued version of the here and now.

Siblings Julian (Dewi Wykes), Anne (Isabelle Methven) and Dick (Louis Suc) are sent to their Uncle Quentin’s (David Ricardo-Pearce) and Aunt Fanny’s (Lara Denning) in Kirrin, on the Southeast Coast for the summer. With their cousin George (Maria Goodman) and Timmy the Dog (brilliant puppetry by Ailsa Dalling) the five set out to uncover a mystery that includes their scientist uncle, a mysterious artist (Kibong Tanji) and an over-friendly local, Bobby (Sam Harrison).

Upon Lucy Osbourne’s simple but adaptable set design, which, when layered with Ash J Woodward’s video design and Johanna Town’s colourful lighting design ensures the perfect playground is set for the actors to tell their tale. Harvey’s fluid and slick direction allows the pace of the production to be smooth and transitions from location to location mean no laborious scene changes.

Arguably Elinor Cook’s script could be chopped down, especially in the exposition-heavy first act, but the modern nuances of self-identity and freedom of personal expression is one of the adaptation’s strongest suits. Jamieson’s music has a confidence to it, and there are one or two strong musical numbers, but one feels that the musicality of the piece is perhaps the weakest element of the production – one couldn’t help but wonder what the musical would be if Stiles and Drew or Pippa Cleary and Jake Brunger were given the opportunity to write the musical numbers.

That said the production’s technical aspects and cast more than make up for the musical misgivings with strong performances coming from Methven as Anne, Suc as Dic and Goodman as cousin George. The puppetry is sublime and a true highlight of the production, Dalling’s puppetry of Timmy is sublime as is Elisa De Grey’s puppetry support. Also many excellent moments providing most of the shows laughs comes from Harrison’s larger-than-life comic book portrayal of local Bobby. If one was to be a little picky – it would be to see the performance of Tanji going more “Scooby-Doo” in her evil portrayal, at present it all feels a little too friendly and when their plan goes into full-throttle in the second act, it never fully feels justified.

At just under 2.5hours long The Famous Five is probably a little too long, but strong direction, energetic performances and excellent creative aspects ensures this adventure is truly spiffing.

Runs until 15 October 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Truly Spiffing

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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