Edinburgh Fringe 2016
An energetic revival of Our House, the musical inspired by Madness’ hits of the 1970’s. Tim Firth’s words and Sugg’s wonderful music have the rafters rocking at Paradise at Augustine’s.
Our House is the musical with words by Tim Firth and music by that iconic ska/pop band of the 1970’s and 1980’s, Madness. It’s fair to say that it was only a limited success, given the pedigree of those behind it, closing in August 2003 after just ten months at London’s Cambridge Theatre, despite winning the coveted Olivier Award for Best New Musical. It briefly staggered back to life with a short tour in 2008/9 and there was a one-off special in 2012 but it remains a popular production for young musical theatre groups to stage.
The University of Chichester Graduate Company have brought a pulsating version to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, complete with live band and it’s just the sort of show to rattle the rafters of the splendid Paradise at Augustine’s venue on George IV Bridge.
The plot is fairly easy to follow – the two paths that Joe Casey’s life could take after a fateful night where he tries to impress would-be girlfriend Sarah by breaking into a building development overlooking his home; one path means a criminal record and social exclusion, while the other will lose him the girl that he loves. Over a period of seven years and two alternative lives Joe deals with the consequences of that night.
All well and good so far. The band is in excellent fettle and there’s a wonderfully flexible set that represents first Casey Street, then a flat under development, then a court house, a bar, a correction centre and (very inventively) a car together with some very effective mood lighting. The energetic cast are in their element chorusing some of Sugg’s best numbers, including the eponymous Our House, Baggy Trousers, Driving In My Car and NW5 and their choreography is well-drilled and impressively executed. There are also some lovely character vignettes on display as well – a couple of real “Essex Girls”, complete with outrageous costumes, estuary accents and lots of chewing gum. There’s also a “Little and Large” pair of wide boys, with dopey grins and some equally zany costumes.
So it’s such a shame that the male solo singers fail, with one possible exception, to hit the mark. I couldn’t quite put my finger of why this was – perhaps it was a combination of too much band, too little singer amplification or the fact that the pitch was too low for their voices. Either way, melodies got badly lost, pitch wasn’t always perfect and there was too much staccato and not enough legato.
But, riding to the rescue came the girl playing Sarah whose superb soprano voice absolutely nailed It Must Be Love and NW5. Real tenderness, vocal expression and the ability to sustain a note marked her out as the clear star of the show, added to which she appeared to be the linchpin of most of the chorus numbers as well as covering a range of minor roles.
On balance, this was a good show, particularly when the ensemble was in full flight and, with a bit of tidying up on the costume front (Joe’s, in particular, didn’t fit) and a rethink of some of the male solos, it could become a real humdinger.