Book: Mary Hayley Bell
Composer and Lyricist: Richard Taylor
Adaptor: Russell Labey
Director: Sasha Regan
Reviewer: Scott Stait
As Christmas nears, the children of a small Lancashire village in the late 1950s discover a man they believe to be Jesus Christ living in a barn, and endeavor to keep it a secret until the time is right. A show that when first seen by Andrew Lloyd Webber inspired him to write his very own hit adaptation, this quietly affecting show of innocence and redemption seems to have been unfairly forgotten in the musical theatre canon. The Union Theatre’s production however proves that a strong cast and simple staging is all that is needed to produce a touching piece of theatre.
Seeing that director Sasha Regan founded the theatre in 1998, and has directed a great number of productions here, the use of the staging raises questions. The unusual theatre proves difficult and a great deal of sight line issues occur throughout the performance. Despite this vital flaw, the fluidity with which the cast embraces the space is well devised and Nik Corrall’s set design, wooden trellises littered with odds and ends to represent the dilapidated barn, aids the simplicity of the piece, especially when lit so beautifully (Tim Deiling). Another slightly disappointing aspect is the positioning of the band. The difficult acoustics of the space means that even in the quieter moments of the piece, lyrics are lost in place of overplaying by certain instrumentalists. In spite of this, the production shines in its moments of company vocals – the harmonies and rhythms complex but executed with conviction and skill.
Grace Osborn gives an innocently commanding performance as Cathy, eldest of the three Bostock children and discoverer of the “miracle” in the barn. She pitches her optimistic adolescence just right, and has an intensity about her that makes one forget this is a company of adults. Alongside her, Imelda Warren-Green and Alex James Ellison achieve success in delivering the humour and tenderness of the piece, all through (mostly) well-placed Lancashire accents.
Callum Mcardle as ‘The Man’ remains enigmatic and solitary throughout, allowing the children to believe his false identity in a kindly way, never taking advantage. The fragile, wide-eyed optimism of youth, encapsulated modestly in the beautifully lit candle scene gives way to the chaos of the barn fire at the close.
There is much to be admired here, from the witty and touching writing to the strength of the impassioned company delivery. The Union proves that a widely unknown score in a simple setting can shine, and that this fringe production is indeed a certain triumph.
Runs until 21st February