An all-singing, all-dancing feel good musical that tells the story of a young, rebellious working-class lad, in 1980’s North London, struggling to find his way. With a creative plot twist, quirky set, and as many chart-buster hits as you can cram into 160 minutes, this musical gets you clapping along to some of the most iconic tunes from one of the greatest bands of the 80’s – the one and only ‘Madness’. Welcome to the house of fun! So, “it must be love”, right? Well, despite being undeniably entertaining, there were a few niggly issues which made it, regrettably, less than perfect.
The premise of the story line was okay, in a twist reminiscent of ‘Sliding Doors’ we watch two alternative realities unfold, depending on one crucial life decision of 16 year old Joe Casey; the ‘black’ path of crime vs. the ‘white’ path of honesty. Using some very clever costume, tech and scene changes, the creative team are able to show both possible life directions clearly and effectively before the climactic final scene where (predictably) the white path triumphs. Touching on some serious themes of unemployment, crime, and unequal opportunities for the working class, the show maintains a good balance between its occasionally serious substance and its crazy, pop musical madness. The characters were likeable and funny, Joe Casey (Alexis Gerred) was charming and sweet when required and then suitable unlikeable when led astray. His blonde sweetheart Sarah (Daniella Bowen) had a voice as beautiful as her person and I only wish we’d heard more from her. Sean Needha, who played the narrative moral voice of Casey’s dead father, also merits mention and had a powerful singing voice capable of pulling the story together.
The chaotic flailing of limbs, jumping and thrusting actually worked wonderfully with the madness of the entire show
There were some genuinely good tie-in moments with the songs, although like most musicals of this type some were more tenuous – the song ‘Night Boat to Cairo’, set on the banks of the River Nile suddenly became Las Vegas for example! Great moments where songs fit perfectly include ‘My Girl’, ‘It Must be Love’ and of course, ‘Our House’. However in general, although I enjoyed the divided plot, when compared to other musical classics the story is a little contrived, predictable, and sometimes moulded purely to fit another Madness top hit.
It is therefore not surprising that the music was the main focus, and I sometimes felt the plot was inconsequential, so long as the next song was around the corner. The quality of singing was at a very high level (although the cracking live music had a tendency to somewhat drown out the voices ).The choreography ,though sometimes a little messy, was in my opinion spot on – the chaotic flailing of limbs, jumping and thrusting actually worked wonderfully with the madness of the entire show, giving much needed bursts of energy . When it worked, it worked very well; colourful costumes, young cast, great tunes, and fantastic live music, all coming together to create the vibe of the buoyant, youth of the 1980s, hopeful despite their somewhat uncertain future. Sadly however, after the show-stopping opener of ‘Our House’, the energy of the performances tended to sag, and classics such as ‘I am Driving in My Car’ did not grip me like they should have done.
The high focus on the quality of the music also unfortunately meant many words were lost. This happened both in the dialogue and during the songs themselves. Fast numbers such as ‘Baggy Trousers’ had virtually unintelligible verses, which when the lyrics are not only wonderfully witty, but vital for the storyline, is a real problem.
Overall, if you are a fan of Madness, I highly recommend this musical. The musicians were wonderful, really bringing to life the classic pop hits with energy and flair, and it was great to see them dancing along with the cast on stage rather than hidden in a pit. The talent of the cast and crew is evident, and the set and tech was very clever.
It is only a shame that in the vibrancy and energy of some numbers certain lyrics were lost, and I really wished the energy witnessed at the outset was maintained throughout. However, judging by the audience members who jumped up to dance and sing along in the encore, I assume many people would not agree.
Our House runs at Theatre Royal until Saturday 12th. For more information go to http://www.trch.co.uk/index.aspx?articleid=22926