Paul Johnson | 28 Nov 2015 00:04am
One of the best things about being a reviewer is the opportunity to see theatre that I have never seen before. For most shows, this is because I missed it when professional productions were playing. What is rare though, is a chance to see a completely new piece, never performed before.
The Carlton Theatre Group (formerly The Carlton Dramatic Society) run a new writing programme, so would be playwrights have an opportunity to see their work performed. Their current show titled Pandemonium, a modern take on Milton’s Paradise Lost is written and directed by Carlton member Kristen McGorry.
Pandemonium tells the story of antihero Nick Astan, a sleazy, womanising, selfish TV Commissioner with his eye on the top job at an entertainment megacorporation, Milton Global. When he is passed over for promotion by CEO Gerald Orville Dawson (please note the initials!), an attempt in revenge industrial espionage ends badly, and he is cast into corporate purgatory, AKA the post room. From there, he must fight his way through the company levels, including a typing pool full of indignant ex-lovers and a spooky, customer services department, which was nicely stylised with operators controlled like robotic dolls by “The Supervisor”. On his journey back to the 35th floor, it seems Nick is beginning to see the error of his ways, and grow a conscience and a heart. Or maybe not?
Although the story has an 80s vibe, with a set list of classics from A-Ha, The Pet Shop Boys, Dead or Alive and Bonnie Tyler, as well as the dubious sharp suits, red braces and shoulder pads so beloved of that decade, new technology and modern references are littered throughout. As an audience member, this was quite confusing to start with, but it gradually became clear that this is not a time defined piece, rather an exploration on themes of media manipulation, and a tongue in cheek swipe at the hierarchy of big business, and the characters found therein; from the sadistic Head of Marketing to a sinister HR director. It’s cleverly written, both dark and extremely humourous in places and the alternative endings voted on by the audience in the style of phone vote reality shows is a neat addition. The story is also aided by some great visuals; I would hate to spoil the twist, so let’s just say the videos in the final scene were some pretty impressive visual trickery, especially for an amateur company.
It was a large ensemble, with most playing a number of different roles, and mainly the cast performed these well, tackling 80s pop hits and power ballads with enthusiasm, though the harmonising was sometimes a little patchy. Although at times it looked a little overcrowded on the stage, I do feel the director and choreographer made the most of a tricky space, helped by some clever lighting from lighting designer Matthew Farquhar.
Richard Gladwell as Nick managed to convey to the audience both the smooth, smarmy, heartless company man, and the warmer softer side when his character is forced to take on the role of saviour to the lost souls found in the postroom, taking the audience with him on his journey to a possible redemption. He also displayed a strong singing ability, tackling the vocally tricky 80s pop songs tunefully and with confidence.
Ian Ward as Morty, Nick’s seven year old “son”, trapped in the body of a man was an absolute delight; immensely entertaining, with perfect comic timing. It would have been easy for such a ridiculous character to descend into farce, but Ian managed to keep the characterisation on the right side of funny and the portrayal at times was oddly touching.
Sally Arden as Emma, an ex-colleague of Nick’s who has been driven mad by the purgatory of the postroom, and escapes to accompany Nick on his journey back to the 35th floor, also gave a stand out performance, with excellent physicality.
I also loved the character of “Bub” as a genial Father Christmas figure with a slightly sinister twist played with glee by a sprightly Richard Vaughan-Payne.
Finally, they might have only been cameo roles, but Dave and Steve the security guards were an audience favourite, so I must give them a mention. What a great double act! Sporting mullets and droopy moustaches, and bearing more than a passing resemblance to the 118 guys, they had the audience is stitches as the hapless duo charged with hunting Nick down. Dominic Hatje as Dave, a petulant aspiring poet reminded me strongly of Tim Curry’s Frank N Furter, and Neil Hellard as his counterpart Steve was a perfect po faced jobsworth. It would have been nice to see more of them.
As the director in her programme notes so rightly says, everything is better with a soundtrack of 80s music, and you wouldn’t get any argument on that from this reviewer. Carlton Dramatic Society are to be congratulated on delivering a clever, engaging piece of new work. If you are after something a bit different from your theatre, I would highly recommend it.
- : admin
- : 24/11/2015