Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Music: Cathy Shostak and Eric Angus
Musical adaptation and lyrics: Paul James
Director: Alan Ayckbourn
Reviewer: Audrey Pointer
Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre premieres a new musical adaptation of Ayckbourn’s 1998 play (his fifty-third) directed by the writer. Ayckbourn originally wrote the play to celebrate the National Year of Reading. It’s a play suitable for all the family and likewise this musical. The team behind The Demon Headmaster (Cathy Shostak, Eric Angus and Paul James) is responsible for developing the play into a musical while Mark Warman is musical director.
Kevin Carter (played by Evelyn Hoskins) is a young boy who likes reading in bed. One night, he falls into the book he is reading and all kinds of adventures befall him as he tries to get back to his bedroom. First he meets private detective Rockfist Slim (Nicolas Colicos), who will share Kevin’s quest to save the world before time runs out. Slim has a tough exterior but enough warmth to make him a trustworthy companion for Kevin, even though he has trouble remembering Kevin’s name for a good portion of the work.
Being a theatre in the round, there is no fixed set and different things pop up, in and onto the stage as required, such as Kevin’s bed, Gran-Wolf’s kitchen etc. Likewise, the performers often exit and enter the stage via trapdoors and you never quite know which trapdoor is going to come into play next. The mechanics of this is exquisite and makes the stage a more exciting space than a traditional set. The use of a trapdoor in conjunction with a descending chimney top, early on in act one, is particularly creative.
In terms of costume, Kevin is in pyjamas throughout while, in stark contrast, his buddy Slim is in the archetypal “private dick” outfit of the Hollywood gangster films – fedora, mac, pinstripe suit and two-tone brogues. All the other actors play more than one character so the wardrobe ranges from human chess pieces to ghosts to Wubblies (pink parodies of Teletubbies), characters from the book Kidnapped and several others.
Jason Taylor’s lighting design is very effective, whether conveying dank interior spaces or brightly lit open-air scenes. Direction is rock solid, as one might expect from a man who has spent as long as Ayckbourn has in the theatre, with not a wasted moment, an unnecessary gesture or a dramatic moment that is not sharply honed.
Six excellent singers have been chosen for this production. Evelyn Hoskins manages to artfully convey a ten-year-old boy with realism, not just in her singing but also in her every movement. Nicolas Colicos has a velvety vocal timbre that tells you Slim is a chum, despite his occasional gruffness. Natasha J. Barnes has a very powerful voice, especially during the song ‘A Game of Chess’. Katie Birtill is another vocal star, with her portrayal of Monique, the femme fatale and chief villain of the piece. John Barr and Stephen Matthews, who make up the sextet, are excellent throughout.
The show has about a dozen songs, in a range of styles from the breezy opening number to ones with jazzy structure. A favourite with the audience is the delicious tots TV parody The Wubbly Song. A small band, led by Mark Warman, manages to supply all the musical variety required.
This is a classy, tasteful work, featuring six top musical theatre performers, creatively produced and professionally presented. It’s great fun, especially when The Wubblies appear, and has heaps of enthusiasm. It’s charming and child-friendly, faintly old fashioned but consistently entertaining. Mr. Ayckbourn was present for this world premiere and should be pleased with the result of his latest collaboration, which will surely pull in the crowds.
Photo: Tony Bartholomew | Runs until: 31st August