first night

Once and Future

Ellie Gauge travels back in time with 3dTC



Before I begin this review, I just want to make it very clear that I had a thoroughly enjoyable night. Not only that but the entire row of people sat around me definitely did too! We roared with laughter throughout and were all singing and clapping along by the end.  

‘Once & Future’ has been advertised as a ‘Brand New Comedy Musical’ - it wasn’t until I arrived in the Assembly Rooms that I discovered that by ‘Brand New’ they meant slightly adapted and by ‘Comedy Musical’ they meant primary school show. That sounds scathing, and I don’t mean it to - this is simply what it is, an updated version of the director’s year six show. Essentially this production has allowed director Rachel Read to fulfill her childhood dreams and in that sense it is a remarkable success.

There were a couple of performers who I believe mastered what was required for this show. Rebecca McDonald should be praised here, her performance was very much ‘Miranda’ and I mean that in entirely complimentary way. Eleanor Harby, once she warmed into it, was also very strong - her comic timing was brilliant and she was facially very engaging. However for me, Charlotte Thomas completely stole the show, and I would argue she was the only one who really understood that this was essentially a ‘kids show’ and let that come through in her performance in a professional way. What I loved about Thomas’ performance was that she didn’t take herself too seriously. Perfect examples of this are - her exclamation of “I feel another song coming on” to prompt an orchestra who had forgotten to start playing; and her impromptu jazz hands when she messed up the choreographed mexican wave. As adults performing a child’s production, not taking yourself too seriously is vital. It would have been marvelous to have seen all the actors adhere to this, and would have made for a much more professional show. Instead at times I was left feeling slightly awkward as twenty year olds rolled around the stage like small children. 

Thomas should also be praised for her beautiful vocal performance, again she outshone all of the other performers. The vocals across the rest of the cast seemed somewhat shaky, which perhaps is a result of being under rehearsed. There were a few false starts and lots of the actors could be found looking nervously to the conductor in the pit. Alice Ashwell had a lovely, powerful voice but unfortunately her songs did not sit comfortably in her range and hence she tended to become slightly flat especially on the lower notes. Phoebe Chan also has a technically good voice but unfortunately she lacked any character in her performance. 

The group numbers were fun and lively, but all the jumping around meant that musical technique and sound quality took a backseat. Perhaps high quality musicality is not what this production was going for but with a well tuned orchestra to accompany them it seemed like a slightly missed opportunity. The ensemble were clearly not listening to each other and so the voices failed to blend well. Unfortunately this problem was made even worse when various cast members simply didn’t know any of the words to the songs, and quite frankly looked bored. 

Rachel Read, as always, has worked incredibly hard on this production and I sincerely hope she is proud of what she has managed to achieve. This is certainly a fabulous way to mark her 30th production in Durham! However, I think there was definitely room for improvement in terms of direction, especially with a cast that is not particularly experienced. There seemed to be a lot of potential talent in this cast but it just wasn’t showcased very well. Furthermore, a lot of the time the cast were just wandering around the stage aimlessly - not only did this look messy but also made it rather difficult to understand what exactly was going on. Having said that there were clearly some very well thought out moments, for which Read deserves credit. I particularly enjoyed the avalanche in the cave and the smoking trap door! 

I am slightly confused as to what I should take away from this production. I don’t quite know why it is being performed in Durham where the usual Assembly Rooms audience consists of university students, not young children. In addition the quality of the three essential elements of a ‘musical’ were on the whole pretty poor. And yet, somehow, I really enjoyed it!

18 October 2013

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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