Paul Johnson | 22 Aug 2015 20:56pm
Photo: Darren Bell
Although it ultimately falls under the infamous ‘jukebox musical’ tag, Our House – which incidentally also includes a couple of unreleased songs – wasn’t created by lazily stitching together a bagful of famous tracks with a nauseatingly cheesy script. Such is the eclectic power of Madness that, without rewriting any lyrics, Tim Firth (a self-confessed Madness fan) was deftly able to add twenty-two of the band’s songs into his story. You can bet it’s also no accident that the strongly narrative songs of a dysfunctional group – which Madness will be the first to admit – form the core of a story about a dysfunctional group of teenagers.
It seems fitting that at least half a dozen of the Union Theatre’s cast are making their professional debuts in the Fringe venue’s current production (now running until 12 September). The ‘Madness’ musical – as Our House is affectionately known – is not only about raw, gritty, no-nonsense North London kids, but it’s also a hell of a way to cut your professional teeth; highly demanding and in a performing space right under the noses of your audience.
Also, thanks to Tim Firth’s clever book there is a lot more ‘acting’ involved in Our House than your regular musical, which is another unforgiving feature of the Union Theatre’s tight space. You’ve really got to be on the money here or you’ll very quickly be found out. Thankfully, and forgetting a couple of nerve-induced tongue trips, the current residents of Casey Street have captured the Camden Town spirit quite brilliantly delivering a fast-paced energy-filled ride that will make Madness fans of all who sit before them.
Produced by the Union’s founder, Sasha Regan, and directed by Michael Burgen, this scaled-down performance of Our House is a perfect example (to Sardines’ readers in particular) of what is really capable with a limited space and budget – if you have enough creativity, opportunity, and a talented, enthusiastic cast. Gone are the moving black/white doors, gone is the projected backdrop, gone is the need for its leading character to have a dedicated dresser in the wings, and gone are the head-mics.
As a big Madness fan myself, my inner quibble was initially disappointed at the lack of punch from Richard Baker’s five-piece band but, as the format of the evening unfolded (remember, no head-mics), the toned-down accompaniment was not only fitting but quite refreshing – although the obvious lack of a vital trumpet part was still apparent. And whatever punch the band was forced to lose the cast made up for, so in the big numbers such as Baggy Trousers, Wings of a Dove and The Sun and the Rain, the volume and energy emanating from the stage was striking.
Steven France shines in the leading role of Joe Casey, rightly streetwise and self-assured which makes his double storyline all that more believable. For this character it’s often a fine line between which side of the law your decisions will take you and for Joe Casey we see the both outcomes. Playing both Good’ and ‘Bad’ Joe, and therefore virtually never offstage, the artistic decision to only change the top half of his costume for each alter-ego will have eased the burden on France’s performance slightly.
Opposite Steven France as Joe’s on-off girlfriend Sarah, Ailsa Davidson (in her professional debut since graduating from GSA) is quite brilliant. Not only does this Scottish lass deliver a London accent that David Tennant would be envious of, the quality of Davidson’s acting including her show-stopping delivery of the beautiful NW5 means this young actress is definitely one to watch.
Strength in depth is a notable feature throughout this production and in an ensemble show, the cast list is peppered with standout support from principals and chorus alike but perhaps worthy of extra mention are Dominic Brewer as Joe’s deceased father; Joe Ashman’s Emmo; Claire Learie’s Billie (professional debut); Jay Osborne’s Reecey; Rhys Owen’s Mr Pressman plus various other doubling roles.
In addition to Burgen’s impressive direction, William Whelton’s choreography also deserves a mention. Refreshingly original while keeping various iconic elements of the original West End production this is another splendid example of how to work a 20ft x 20ft space. The Union is a gorgeous little venue that demonstrates again and again what real theatre is all about. If you haven’t been yet please try to pay a visit …and there’s certainly no better time than the present.
- : admin
- : 21/08/2015