This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews at:
Book: Tim Firth
Music & Lyrics: Madness
Director: Peter Rowe
The Public Reviews Rating:
Striving to be more Blood Brothers than Jersey Boys, Tim Firth’s musical Our House based around the music of Madness, ultimately fails to fall into either camp. Neither dramatic play with music or full-blown jukebox musical it is an odd hybrid which sits uneasily between the two.
A cautionary story about the power of choice, it tells the story of Joe Casey who on the fateful night of his 16th birthday breaks into an empty luxury apartment to impress his girlfriend Sarah. From here onwards we enter a parallel universe where we see the consequences of both his choices: in one world Joe escapes and prospers pursuing a life on the slightly less than legal side of the tracks and in the other he does the honest thing, surrenders to the police and ultimately lands up in a young offender’s institution. The story twists and turns (to its credit it resists taking a predictable path) and ultimately our young hero gets what he deserves. Shoe-horned into all of this are the songs of 80’s superstars Madness.
The company of actor musicians play both multiple roles and instruments onstage throughout and equip themselves with energy and commitment but there’s an overwhelming sense of something missing about the whole endeavour. The sound quality suffers from being dampened by the tiny and distractingly busy set perched on the huge Festival Theatre stage and struggles to reach the volume needed to fill this huge auditorium. The dampened sound also reflects the reaction that met the end of each set piece. No number ends emphatically enough to prompt spontaneous applause and on many occasions the actors launch straight into dialogue at the end of a song leaving no time for the audience to show any appreciation they feel it might deserve. It’s all a pity as the company work hard to engage the audience and their enthusiasm can’t be faulted. It’s a case of bad material happening to good people.
Alexis Gerred (Joe) is an amiable enough lead and he manages the quick changes required of the role with aplomb but he’s a bit lacking in the personality department to convincingly pull this off. Worthy of praise though is Daniella Bowen as girlfriend Sarah, convincing as the moral compass of the piece. However, one criticism must be made of the younger members of the ensemble, whose diction is less than crisp, leading to a universal tendency to mangle dialogue and render punchlines flat. However, Sean Needham and Rebecca Bainbridge as Joe’s parents, lend the show a much needed quality and gravitas, both are accomplished actors as well as musicians and their class shines through.
Despite a somewhat muted reaction throughout, the audience did give hearty applause at the end, though one can’t help think that it was for the hard-working cast rather than the material. The show should be applauded though for attempting to rise above the run of the mill jukebox musical fodder but it needs a clearer narrative and a more charismatic lead to pull it off.