first night

Changes: A Song Cycle

Hamish Inglis experiences a moving evening of musical theatre with TDTC's latest offering.

 Changes sees the exploration of the lives of four characters, and loosely follows the, well, changes which shape these. This piece of musical theatre went from childhood onwards till death, with songs marking the pivotal changes that took place in the characters' lives, exploring what they wanted to be when they grew up and how and when these dreams grew sour.

Upon entering Empty Shop I was instantly struck by the minimalistic set, with the audience surrounding the acting arena. It was an inventive use of a small place, and allowed for an intimacy with the audience which is often not possible in larger venues, making it easier for the audience to empathise with the drama of the characters' lives. There were occasions in which it was impossible to see the face of any individual onstage due to the blocking, however these were few and far between and in general the actors used the space well. The onstage props consisted of four chairs which were shifted around the stage as the scenes changed. Lighting complemented these changes well with minor shifts to the intensity of the wash making the emotions in the scene more poignant.

It is important to note that this was not an entirely original piece of musical theatre – the director Shona Graham and Musical Director Becca Rickwood drew together a variety of songs from other musicals into a loose overarching plot. The production they devised was executed beautifully, with each song shifting into the next with ease. This made for a lack of necessity for dialogue as each song transitioned into the next, creating a beautiful and easy continuity which is rarely seen in amalgamation pieces. The songs were clear and emotive, and it was instantly clear what element of life they detailed. This was done in the absence of a specific plot line, leaving the songs themselves to carry the story. Whilst a bold endeavour, the narrative was established with startling success.

The music itself was stunning. Special commendation should be given to Robert Green, whose skills as a pianist showed a sensitivity to the differences between the pieces, and he was easily able to convey the emotional depth of the performance. A small issue was that the piano did occasionally drown out the singing – which made hearing the words of the singers difficult in these instances. This was a small issue, however, with the piano and the occasional addition of cajón a beautiful accompaniment to the performers on stage.

The actors themselves were superb. Emily Germon (Poppy) stole the early part of the show, portraying the childish glee of youth with ease, and showing a phenomenal use of facial expressions. Her duet with Harry Adair (Michael) on the merits of friends with benefits was one of the highlights of the show, and contrasted beautifully with many of the sadder themes explored within the production. Harry himself proved the linchpin for the comedy throughout the piece, with his song on sailing making the audience roll with laughter. Finola Southgate (Leah) was outstanding on an emotive level – her songs were some of the most moving seen, an especial favourite being on the way dreams shape our aims in love. Last, but by no means least, Alex Mackinder (Ben) gave one of the most beautiful voices I have heard, and was able to easily adapt it to colluding with Harry in his piece on sailing, and singing more brutal and emotional songs towards the latter end of the piece. Especially entertaining was his stealing of the piano from Robert, performing an entertaining song on the merits of Mozart.

Each singer showed exceptional individual skill, and the initial quartet and later duets showed that this was only enhanced in collaboration. This, however, led to my principal disappointment with the production: the lack of ambition with its music. While intricate and smooth it mainly concentrated upon the interactions of single pairs of individuals. Wider relationships were exploited in the early parts of the production, but later on we were mainly presented with impassioned solos or duets. It was a shame that the incredible power displayed in the group songs performed early on was not exploited more throughout the play (with a notable exception being the beautiful ‘Gregorian chant’ style piece in the wedding during the piece, with all four voices interacting beautifully). However, this is a minor quibble with a phenomenal piece of musical theatre.

Changes gave us an insight into our own human struggles, charting our evolution as we grow up. It explored how our circumstances, experiences and beliefs change through performances and music powerful and nuanced enough to generate both floods of tears or gales of laughter, often one straight after the other. The combination of excellent direction, phenomenal actors and beautiful pieces made this a production to be highly recommended. It is a great pity that there were only two performances – and both on the same night. 

12 June 2016

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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