Writer: Melvyn Bragg
Music: Howard Goodall
Lyrics: Howard Goodall
Director: Daniel Buckroyd
Reviewer: Rebecca Taylor
A spell-binding performance that will have you on an emotional rollercoaster throughout. This accomplished musical, a collaboration between Curve Theatre and Mercury Theatre, tells the story of a typical young family in Cumbria in the early 1900s, making a living by any means possible and struggling through life’s toils and troubles. The writer, Melvyn Bragg, has depicted a raw and honest account of life during a time of work depravation and the First World War, and director Daniel Buckroyd has done a sterling job of bringing the characters to life. Bragg’s account of the past, inspired by his grandfather’s life, seems an unlikely choice to become a musical; however, Howard Goodall’s musical interpretation provides the perfect emotive accompaniment to this quite familiar, yet compelling, story.
The storyline follows the lives of a young couple, played by David Hunter and Julie Atherton, as they move to the country to seek work and make an honest life for themselves. Following a shaky start to married life, the couple experience the precarious employment scene, followed by the joys as well as heartache of parenthood. Hunter and Atherton have a natural chemistry and both play their parts with true conviction, which holds ones attention throughout. Chris Staines also shines as Pennington, and other smaller parts, performing with fervour each time he is on stage. He is a joy to watch. Of equal talent, Jill Cardo brings humour and sensitivity to the character May, which she performs brilliantly. This production has a consistently strong cast, each actor and actress giving their all, which translates into truly believable characters on stage.
The vocal performances are very strong and give credit to a superb musical score. Goodall’s arrangement, under the supervision of Musical Director Richard Reeday, compliments the storyline entirely and is intrinsic in conveying the emotions running throughout. The musicians are a visible part of the performance and deserve special mention for the feeling with which each song is played. In addition, the structure of the set has been kept simple and seems fitting for the era it represents. An interchangeable set and props allow for quick scene changes, so focus remains entirely on the performance, and the lighting provides a dramatic backdrop; all of which enhances the poignant depiction of a significant time in British history.
The audience has no choice but be drawn into the lives of the characters, engaged by an evocative combination of convincing performances, moving songs and a captivating storyline. This is a must-see production that will have you welling up and laughing in equal measure.
Runs until 27th April