2nd December 2017
This was a welcome second outing for Michael Webborn and Daniel Finn’s extraordinary new musical drama set against a background of skulduggery in the mid-eighteenth century London Docks, where the tragedy-prone Donne family plies its trade. The music was the highlight of the piece in this production, with Louisa Green doing a robust job of projecting the darkly coloured score from the keyboard, with Sandra Thompson, violin, Brenda Sancho, cello, Greg Hagger, bass, and Becky Brass, percussion. And the singing by the young company of training actors was splendid. Webborn and Finn have established themselves as a powerful writing partnership, following up their delicious ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ with this melodramatic family yarn of adventures and scrapes amongst the merchant classes.
There is a lot of music to get through, as well, in this piece originally designed for performance by the MTA last year in a magnificently coherent and persuasive production at the Bridewell Theatre: everyone in the large company gets their moment to shine and show off their particular skills. With some of this cast, like Laura Barnard, an alternate Lily Donne, these have become well established through performances with outside organisations like the NYMT: at the performance I saw, she earned plaudits from the whole audience for her poised command of the stage and secure grasp of her part’s many vocal challenges. Contrasting her personality in almost every way, Claire Kennan was alive and mercurial as Charlotte Donne, with brilliantly clear diction and a fine sense of embracing the qualities of each moment as it passed. Meanwhile, Danielle Whittaker brought more than a touch of earthy reality into the rarefied lives of the Donnes, in the brassy role of the brothel matriarch, Fanny Penhaligon, a role with abundant comic potential, and Lizzie Burgess was an elegant and sweet Eleanor Bray. There cannot be many musicals to choose from where the four leads are all women, one of the many features that makes this work so refreshing.
Amongst the many other roles creating a vivid patchwork of metropolitan life we saw a fine collection of young performers. Philip Murch made a handsome and charismatic love interest in the form of Harland Manderville, while Harvey Westwood was a strongly convincing Joe Grey, a presence on the stage to watch with care and attention. The forces of law and order, somewhat under pressure in this torrid environment, were incorporated in the person of Jonathan Barakat’s Constable Farrow, while Jochebel Ohene MacCarthy was the representative of the church, Sister Edith, and Becky Stockley really stood out as the tenacious and determined Journalist. Michael Karl-Lewis was Mr Bolt and the Lighterman, David Sharp was Mr Borage and Mr Erridge, Daniel-Thomas Forster was Mr Quilt and Mr Fipps, Alex West took the parts of Earnest Donne and the Blacksmith, while Aaron Gwilliam-Stone was Adam Donne and Chrysanthemum. Martha Burke was a charming Chambermaid and Christian Andrews was Sir Walter Gladstone, and Elric Doswell was the Haulier. We also thoroughly enjoyed the presence of Ciara Ennia as Daisy, Johanna Pearson-Farr as Jasmine and Eliza Roadnight as Violet, and also Ella-Jane Thomas as the Oysterwife and Lady Rutherford. The alternate cast, who I did not see, comprised Molly Osborne as Charlotte, Simone Sullivan as Penhaligon, Lauren Poulson as Bray and Rebecca Wickes as Lily.
There was vivacious choreography from Fabian Aloise, the visual highlight of this production. By contrast, the minimal stage set Amy Yardley was sparse and bare, while her costume choices were eclectic: period dress dominated for the men, but for reasons which were unclear the ladies were in 1950s tailored jackets and long chiffon skirts, while the maid wore full Edwardian honours and would not have looked out of place in ‘An Inspector Calls’. Why? No one seemed to know. In a show that otherwise goes to some lengths to create a mood of gritty realism these departures into fanciful interpretation were difficult to understand. Simon Greiff, the director, will be able to explain all, I’m sure.
In accordance with standard practice, star ratings are not awarded to student productions.