first night

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

Jennifer Baker takes a trip to Collingwood to see the Woodplayers' production of this popular Lloyd Webber musical.

Having seen Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat no less than five times over the last nineteen years, I entered into this production sceptically, wondering what could possibly be done with it that I hadn’t already seen many times before.

Collingwood Woodplayers have amassed a strong lead cast for this show, with Meg Duffy competently tackling the difficult narrator’s track. Duffy approached the role with confidence, interacting often with the other members of the cast—a directing choice that I have not seen before in productions of this musical and one that I feel worked well. However, she should take care to consider her connection with the audience. In a role that encompasses the majority of the show’s storytelling, it is important to allow the audience in so that they can fully engage with it. Lovely moments came, too, from some of the brothers and the ensemble members. I particularly enjoyed Martin Shore’s solo in ‘Benjamin Calypso’, as he brought a well-needed burst of energy to the stage, and was gloriously fun to watch. Unfortunately, the chorus overall often lacked energy and confidence. In several songs, I felt as if they did not know what they were doing—choreography was unpractised and out of time and several musical entrances were missed. A few moments stood out, particularly ‘Those Canaan Days’, but in general they seemed to lack focus. Perhaps the ensemble could have benefitted from stronger direction in scenes where they were not singing, as they often felt disengaged and, at times, bored. In the context of a show as over-the-top as Joseph, there is no such thing as overacting, and they should be more bold in their acting choices and have more confidence. The strongest ensemble work by far was between the brothers, who grew into their performance as the show progressed and were generally entertaining.

That said, the standout performance in this show was clearly Arthur Lewis, who was perfect as Joseph. Camp, colourful and delightfully watchable, he took what can often be a rather stale, two-dimensional role and breathed new life into it, bringing out moments of comedy that I had not previously noticed and constantly engaging with both the audience and the other characters on the stage. His powerful voice brought particular pathos to his big solo in ‘Close Every Door’, although I would question the director’s choice to bring the ensemble on stage during this number, as I felt it detracted from the emotion of the song and the impact of Lewis’ performance.

Particular congratulations must be offered to the technical team; good use was made of the lighting capabilities of the venue to not only facilitate the show but to creatively enhance it. Although there were a couple of timing issues with cues, I am sure these will be ironed out throughout the run. If the pace is maintained throughout the transitions, which often felt a little clunky, then this would raise the overall energy level of the show. The set was simple yet effective, with the multiple levels offering the actors more opportunities to utilise movement further in their performances, and Duffy used this to particularly good effect.

Overall, the Woodplayers’ production of Joseph, although unpolished, provided a thoroughly enjoyable evening. In a show that often relies on impressive sets and lavish costumes, some strong acting performances and unexpectedly poignant moments were exhibited in what is arguably one of the most unashamedly fun, camp and cheesy musicals in the irrepressible Lloyd Webber’s repertoire.

10 March 2017

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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