I’ve heard a lot about Our House and know and enjoy the music of Madness, but this is the first time that I’ve seen this musical and wasn’t sure what to expect. I needn’t have had any concerns, as this is a delightful treat to brighten up any damp and dreary December evening.
Joe Casey, a 16-year-old boy, makes a somewhat dubious decision to break into a new building development in an attempt to impress his dream girl, Sarah; however, the police are hot on his trail. The story then splits into a Sliding Doors-type concept, where in one version he stays and surrenders himself to the police in order to protect Sarah and in the other he runs away and leaves her to fend for herself. The consequences of each of these actions for Joe, Sarah and those close to them are then portrayed and developed as the divergent plotlines intertwine.
Maciek Shasha (Joe) and Lucy Mellenfield (Sarah) make an engaging couple in both versions, giving terrific performances with their vocals, characterisations and physical performances and drawing a clear delineation between the two versions of their characters. The physicality aspects by Shasha in particular reinforce the different stance and demeanour of the ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ Joe, Mellenfield’s dulcet tones being most emotive in ‘NW5’. John Wilders is excellent and captivating as Joe’s tormented father, commanding the performance area during his songs. The respective comedy duos of Jonny Taisma-James (Emmo) and Nick Ong (Lewis) as Joe’s slow-witted ‘brothers’, and Phoebe Armstrong (Billie) and Harriet Hutchins (Angie) as Sarah’s brash friends, provide great light relief and an added dimension to the proceedings.
The choreography (Claire Mason) is slick, reminiscent of Madness’s trademark moves, but also fresh and dynamic and is (for the most part) executed very well, with the energy levels of the entire cast throughout being immense. The minimal set is used well and enhanced by projected backdrops to really good effect, particularly during ‘Driving in my car’. The directing team of Lydia Edge (director), Ellen Fleming (assistant director), Megan Hilling (musical director) and Izzi Hans (assistant MD) are to be commended for bringing together a group of freshers who put on a production that many long-standing groups would be proud of creating, with some particularly delightful and humorous little touches –I particularly appreciated the market scene!
The only real gripe I have is that tonight the sound balance needed work and was inconsistent, particularly before the interval. The excellent musicians give a full-tone accompaniment to the musical numbers, with great effect, but they also provide a cinematic underscoring to large sections of the dialogue. However, with mikes in the band corner amplifying the terrific music, some of the significant dialogue was drowned, making it very confusing and difficult to follow the narrative in the intentional chaos of the initial scenes. It did vastly improve after the interval, so is hopefully something that will be less of an issue for the remainder of the run.
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the passion, dynamics, enthusiasm and musicality of this production. If this is their Freshers’ Show, then the future of Showstoppers is in very safe hands and I challenge anyone to not come out of the show singing or humming Madness tunes!
Future performances: 9-10 December at 7.30.