Review – Our House

Oct 16 2013 | By More

✭✭✩✩✩   Substandard touring production

Festival Theatre Edinburgh Tue 15 – Sat 19 October 2013

In 2003 the original production of Our House took the Lawrence Olivier Award for Best New Musical, with nominations for Best Actor in a Musical and Best Theatre Choreographer. The  new touring production arriving at the Festival Theatre this week bears no resemblance.

Alexis Gerred and Daniella Bowen. Photo credit: MikeKwasniak

Alexis Gerred and Daniella Bowen. Photo credit: MikeKwasniak

The music from those nutty nutty boys, Madness, should be perfect for a jukebox musical such as this. While their songs give the impression of being simple knockabout comedy to a knees-up beat, they often contain deceptively poignant and witty lyrics.

This is not just a romp through their obvious hits either, with lesser-known tracks among the 22 featured. And as with all these jukebox shows, part of the enjoyment is hearing familiar songs presented in unfamiliar contexts with novel arrangements.

The book by Tim Firth (of Calendar Girls and Kinky Boots fame) should impress too, with clever – if familiar – storyline and plotting.

Joe Casey is celebrating his 16th birthday with a night in a swish apartment with Sarah, the girl of his dreams. The rub is that it is in a building site and they are discovered – leaving Joe with a split-second decision: Will he be Good Joe and stay to help Sarah but be caught? Or will he be Bad Joe and flee?

Bravely, Firth has it both ways: following both routes Joe’s life would have taken and developing the parallel stories of Good Joe and Bad Joe.

While Good Joe goes to a young offenders institution Bad Joe gets away and prospers. Then there’s hard-working lone parent, Kath, who is always there to help. And the deceased dad who Joe never knew, crops up throughout as a mysterious presence all clad in black, to comment and offer sage advice.

Tell me it’s not true, you might say. And if not quite as alike as two new pins, there are a few shared chromosomes between the bloodline of Our House and an acclaimed work by one Mr Russell.

So, what of this production by the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich?

Sad to report that four weeks out and it is still riddled with problems. Missed, lazy and slack lighting cues, atrocious sound which renders much of the dialogue indistinguishable and the music mushy, and equipment failings which leave the actors exposed far beyond comfort for anyone involved are just the technical difficulties.

With a tricky parallel storyline such as this, even with colour coding so Good Joe is always in white and Bad Joe in black, these kind of technical difficulties are not acceptable.

Yet this production is not without its appeal

Technical problems can be fixed. Not so artistic failings. Francesca Jaynes’ junior dance school level choreography for the big number featuring union flag umbrellas provides the biggest cringe of the night. Although at least these provide the cast with something to hide their blushes.

An impressive multifunctional set. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

An impressive multifunctional set. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

Credit is due to Alexis Gerred as Joe for his hard work and all those quick costume changes between black and white. Yet he feels lightweight and lacks the presence to lead this show from the front. His youthful voice is fine as 16 year-old Joe – yet it remains high-pitched even when the character has aged. Poor diction means much of his dialogue is lost.

There seems little by way of chemistry between Gerred and Daniella Bowen as Sarah, yet she comes over as one of the stronger players and her songs, especially solos, are among the highpoints.

With four weeks of performances already behind them, James Haggie (Emmo) and Alex Spinney (Lewis) should have built up more of a double-act rapport. Maybe the banter from the female sidekicks, Natasha Lewis (Billie) and Dominique Planter (Angie) works – but you can’t tell because the sound is so poor.

Lloyd Gorman as bad guy Reecey just isn’t bad enough. But although Sean Needham, is underwhelmingly mysterious as the mysterious dad figure, he provides a few more of the vocal highlights.

And yet this production is not without its appeal. Mark Walters has designed an impressive multifunctional set. The band, augmented by the actors playing instruments, impresses – particularly in the second half. And there is a nicely enthusiastic energy from the company.

This is a potentially great show: the awards say so, the 2008 tour proved so and the music of Madness is, of course, quite wonderful.

The fault has to be down to New Wolsey Theatre and director Peter Rowe for not hiring a stronger cast and giving them sufficient direction before sending them out on tour.

Running time 2 hrs 30 mins
Festival Theatre, 13-29 Nicholson St, Edinburgh  EH8 9FT
Tue 15 – Sat 19 October 2013, daily 7.30pm (Sat mat 2.30pm).
Full details and tickets are here:

Our House on Tour
15 – 19 Oct Edinburgh
Festival Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
21 – 26 Oct Bath
Theatre Royal
01225 448844 Book online
28 Oct – 2 Nov Coventry
The Belgrade Theatre
024 7655 3055 Book online
4 – 9 Nov Brighton
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7650 Book online
18 – 23 Nov Plymouth
Theatre Royal
01752 267222 Book online


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