Music and Lyrics: Tim Connor
Book: Susannah Pearse
Director: Bronagh Lagan
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Telling the truth is always the right thing to do because in the end it will come out anyway. This is the message behind Tim Connor and Susannah Pearse’s new musical The Stationmaster which opens for a 2-week run at the Tristan Bates Theatre. As part of the ‘Page to Stage’ season which showcases developing work, The Stationmaster has a lot of potential but in its present form it is the theatre equivalent of a regional steam train that stops at every station rather than an express ride to our destination.
It tells the story of Tom, the titular stationmaster, who gets distracted one day talking to young girl about town Anna and misses a crucial signal that sends a passenger train into the path of an oncoming freight service. Racked with guilt Anna and Tom make a pact to change the signal and never tell anyone what really happened. But the guilt of what they’ve done takes them on a far more dangerous path with tragic consequences for their tiny community.
The problem with the production as it stands is there isn’t quite enough plot to sustain this over two Acts which leads them to cram too many random things into what could be a much tighter story. The decision to partially conclude the story with an upbeat song at the end of the first Act is a strange one which leaves the audience wondering what they’re going back in for. What happens is another major twist is then used to drive the second half, but maybe Connor and Pearse should consider making this the Act One cliff-hanger, and then draw out the resultant psychological and emotional consequences for Tom and the village.
The current set, designed by Nik Corrall isn’t quite flexible enough to convincingly represent some of the later scenes including prison cells and a pub, although it works well as the station and village hall in the first section. And there’s a sculpture of some kind on the back wall which includes a broken tennis racquet and flowers which doesn’t appear to have any meaning.
The most impressive element of this production are the performances which are very good across the board. Nigel Richards effectively conveys the routine nature of Tom’s life and how this is disrupted by Anna’s attention, as well as the feeling of being a hunted man. Expanding the latter section to try to understand more about Tom’s fall from grace would give Richards more to work with. Jessica Sherman gives the most affecting performance as Tom’s long-suffering wife Catherine who feels like a stranger in the village, but again more time could be given to properly exploring the dynamics of their fragile marriage.
Of the remaining villagers, Annie Wensak delivers a neat comic performance as the nosey Mrs Deakin who likes to know everybody’s business, while Emily Bull gets closest to conveying the guilt Anna feels in the song about ghosts reappearing to her at night – reminiscent of the sentiments of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables from Les Miserables.
There are a number of good songs throughout but essentially The Stationmaster needs a stronger plot to bring them together. There are some good things here, especially the performances, and there is a lot of potential in the examination of the effect of tragic events on both individual and community life which will help to add tension to the story. That should ensure this work in progress ends up on the right tracks.
Runs until15 November 2015 |Image Kim Sheard