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This is a very impressive and original new British musical by first timers Eamonn O’Dwyer and Rob Gilbert, and in good shape for a first outing.

Both acts start seven years in the past when David, who makes mirrors, dies in an accident in his workshop. His elder daughter Laura witnesses, and may have had a part in, his death.  Seven years on we see a family broken apart. Laura has withdrawn into herself and her relationship with her mother Anna is badly broken. Her younger 15-year-old sister Lily is precocious and promiscuous, to some extent encouraged by her mother, who has turned to drink. They take in lodger Nathan, who is working on an anthology of the poetry of an ancestor, to help pay the bills. All three women are attracted to Nathan and seek a relationship, though of different sorts. David’s ghost drifts in and out, but only appears to Nathan and Anna. Nathan unwittingly acts as the catalyst for the resolution of the family’s dysfunctionality.

It’s very well structured, unfolding like a mystery. O’Dwyer’s score is very attractive and not derivative like many new musicals, though it is vocally challenging and some of the performers sometimes misfire with a touch of harshness, flatness or over singing. It’s beautifully played by a trio of keyboards, cello and reeds under MD David Randall. David Woodhead’s design makes excellent use of both levels of the Arcola space, more so that just about anything else I’ve seen here. Leigh Davies’ sound is also amongst the best I’ve experienced in an amplified fringe musical (maybe you should hire him, Southwark Playhouse?!)

Gillian Kirkpatrick’s Anna is the emotional heart of the piece and she’s excellent. Jamie Muscato is outstanding as Nathan, with superb vocals, a very different role to the one he played in Dogfight but just as impressive. Graham Bickley is David and his musical theatre experience shows, again with particularly fine vocals.

It’s not faultless, but its an impressive first musical and an impressive first outing in an impressive production by Ryan McBryde. Musical theatre aficionados should be sure to catch it in its last two weeks.

 

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I nearly gave up at the interval. The main reason I returned was to find out how you can have a second half of a musical with two characters when one has died just before the interval. I’m glad I did though, as things picked up considerably.

This 1995 chamber piece is penned by Andrew Lippa (with Tom Greenwald), whose latest show – The Addams Family – made it to Broadway last year. The first half tells the story of a brother and sister growing up six years apart, taking us from the birth of John in 1952 to Jen’s brief return from college 19 years later to announce her emigration to Canada with her draft-dodging boy friend. John goes to Vietnam and dies and we all wonder what on earth is going to happen in the second act……..well, Jen is now a single mother and has named her son….guess….John. The second act tells us the story of her relationship with her son from his birth until it’s his turn to go to college.

This second act has so much more colour and true depth to the characterisation. There is a particularly good scene where the teenage years are played out as a sequence of chat show appearances . If only the first half hadn’t been so monotone and pedestrian; you really didn’t care for the characters or their story until just before the interval. The music was also more distinguished in the second half, moving from mostly modern-day recitative to proper songs.

Katie Brayben carries the piece as a passionate Jen, playful as she grows up and filled with a mother’s anguish later on. Adam Rhys-Davies only has to age to late teens, but does so extremely well, capturing both the innocence of childhood and teenage angst well. David Randall & Lucinda Skinner’s piano and cello accompaniment is lovely.

If ony they could do something about the first half, this could be a real treat……by the way, the pretentious small j’s are theirs not mine!

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