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Our House

by on 2 May 2019

Split Level Accommodation

Our House

By Tim Firth, music by Madness

YAT at Hampton Hill Theatre until 4th May 2019

Review by Wendy Summers

As possibly the only person in the audience not overly familiar with the work of the band Madness, I was pleasantly surprised to recognise most of the songs in this not-quite juke box musical.

The show is an interesting piece with a complex plot involving the same characters in two parallel and very different plotlines; it’s a sort of Sliding Doors meets Top of the Pops. Overall it works but it is difficult to follow and in this particular production it is Marc Batten’s characterisation of Dad we have to thank for keeping the audience up to date with the goings on. Amidst energetic dance routines, some scarily fast quick changes and frenetic projection-based scene changes it is Batten’s commentary on the action that provides a constant calm and reassuring presence amongst the organised chaos that Madness brought to the popular culture of the 1970’s and ‘80’s and YAT gloriously bring to Hampton Hill Theatre.

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The cast are uniformly enthusiastic and obviously having great fun. Unusually the YAT membership has been augmented by more mature actors in the roles of Dad and Mum (the latter a warm portrayal by Danielle Thompson) but the key thing being celebrated on stage is the exuberance of youth. Each and every one of the seventeen strong cast is lively, engaged and engaging. They all work extremely hard and there are some really good performances amongst both main characters and ensemble. No individual plays less than two characters; some considerably more. It is exhausting to watch them.

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Singling out individuals is not something that YAT encourages. However, it would be mean spirited not to give due credit to the central couple, Joe and Sarah, played by George Barnden and Jojo Leppink. Barnden is a versatile actor with a good singing voice who gave the two sides of Joe equal depth and Leppink’s Sarah is admirably feisty. The surprisingly folky tone to her singing voice, reminiscent of a young Joni Mitchell, added extra poignancy to the song Admirable support was provided by Nate Higgins, Bradley Gray, Leona Ademi and Naomi Pink as the faithful sidekicks of Joe and Sarah and Jerome Ifill and Anton Agejev made chillingly appropriate north London villains.

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At first look Our House appears to be a light-hearted, simple and straightforward piece. It is far from it. It deals with very real social issues (the rehabilitation of offenders, gentrification of working-class areas, etc.) and is surprisingly thought-provoking. No “built” set means very complicated projection is required and all credit to director Bill Compton who was personally responsible for this aspect of the show. It must have taken days to design, programme and, most importantly with a musical, to time all the projection cues.

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Like the music of ABBA, Madness’ songs are underrated in terms of their complexity. They are difficult to sing and there were many times during the course of the opening night that the cast struggled. Harmonies were very often “off” and in the humble opinion of this reviewer could have been dispensed with – less is always more and a strong unison or two-part harmony line is much more effective than a hesitant, weak or inaccurate multiple part arrangement. So congratulations to the cast who gamely battled through regardless. Musical Director James Hall has put together an excellent band. If only he’d paid a little more attention to detail in terms of the on-stage music.

It is always such a pleasure to see a new generation of performers come through and in this YAT always deliver. Their repertoire is broad, and they are not afraid to take on challenging pieces. They have again succeeded in rising to a rather large challenge and deserve all the applause and cheers the first night audience gave them.

Wendy Summers
May 2019

Photography by Jonathan Constant

From → Musicals, Reviews

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