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Posts Tagged ‘Ben Goddard’

This show has been part if my life now for 35 years, since the original West End production at the Astoria all those years ago. I consider it the best British musical of my lifetime and I never tire if it. Its score, seeped in choral and folk traditions, has so many gorgeous melodies it’s always uplifting.

Based on Melvyn Bragg’s book, inspired by his grandfather’s life, it’s an epic sweep of several decades of Cumbrian social history from the closing years of the 19th century to immediately after the First World War. The Tallantire’s move from the land to the mines and back, living through challenges to their relationship, children, war and death. In 1984 some thought it wasn’t an appropriate subject for musical theatre, a genre largely occupied by shows about chorus girls getting their big break and chirpy (mostly American) romantic comedies. One year later the English version of Les Miserables arrived, but this broke the ground, with the bonus of being quintessentially British.

Douglas Rintoul’s production uses the now well established actor-musician mode, but with musical standards under Benn Goddard’s direction way higher than most. Jean Chan’s simple design, beautifully lit by Prema Mehta, is more impressionistic than realistic and very evocative, with very effective use of a revolve by Jane Gibson’s movement. With some playing two, or in one case multiple roles, the cast of just eleven, including show MD Tom Self, manage to bring scenes in mines, trenches, union meetings and of course hirings to life, led by Oliver Hembrough as a very charismatic John and Lauryn Redding as a very passionate Emily. Lara Lewis and James William-Pattison are lovely as children May & Harry, the latter doubling up to play Joe Sharp. It really is a fine ensemble, with Lloyd Gorman as Jackson, TJ Holmes as Seth, Samuel Martin as Isaac and Jon Bonner transforming from Pennington into Blacklock, recruiting officer and vicar!

I always think the sign of a great Hired Man is how much the second act moves you, and how uplifted you feel back at the hiring as it end, and this one brought tears to my eyes, not just the story, but the beauty of the music and its interpretation. You have until 18th May to catch it in Hornchurch, then in Hull and Oldham. Be there to see this ground-breaking masterpiece of British theatre.

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I’m strangely ambivalent about this show. Despite the fact rock & roll pre-dates even me, I remember the shivers of excitement when I visited Sun Studios in Memphis in 2004, thinking of the iconic recordings made in that studio. Nothing like that excitement was evident at this show, though I like the idea of it and admire the execution of it.

The show represents a moment in time when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry lee Lewis were together in the studio at a turning point. Presley had already gone to RCA, Cash and Perkins were about to defect to Columbia and Jerry Lee Lewis was newly signed by Sam Phillips, who had discovered the others who were now deserting him. They’re joined by Presley’s then girlfriend and the house band drummer and bassist. I’m not clear how much is true, but reading the programme notes and looking at the song dates, it can’t be entirely true – but what the hell, it’s an excuse to link together 22 rock & roll, country and rockabilly songs.

The performers – Robert Britton Lyons as Perkins, Derek Hagen as Cash, Ben Goddard as Lewis and Michael Malarky as Presley – are exceptional and bassist Gez Gerrard and drummer Adam Riley are a great rhythm section. Fransesca Jackson provides some of the best musical moments (Fever and I Hear You Knocking) as Dyanne. I felt sorry for Bill Ward (Corrie’s dead Charlie) as Sam Phillips, like the perennial bridesmaid lumbered with the only non musical part, but he did well in the circumstances.

When the cast freeze as a photo of the alleged event is projected, there were gasps in the audience and the final mini-concert in be-jewelled jackets with back lighting is great. On the whole though, it didn’t deliver on the excitement front, though it’s fair to say those in the audience for whom it was probably part of the soundtrack of their lives seemed to be having more fun than me – though they couldn’t be enticed to dance, despite much encouragement from the stage.

In the final analysis, its high quality tribute acts framed within the recollection of a moment in time. Not really enough to persuade you to part with £60 (I didn’t, I hasten to add) for a night in the West End.

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