“Oh what fun we’ll have…” sing the cast of Our House currently playing at May Hall, Trent College until 22nd October. And, oh what fun this musical by Tim Firth with music and lyrics by Madness, is with its big well-executed ensemble pieces by amateur group LEOS and its excellent principals.
There’s an expression often used in the workplace that goes “You don’t have to mad to work here… but it helps.” You could equally say, in regard to Our House, that you don’t have to love the song book of the pop group Madness… but it helps. And this cast clearly love it and this is evident from their energy on stage throughout and particularly at the end when they all go mad (and very sweaty) on stage, dancing and singing for all their worth, to the obvious delight of the audience.
Most lead roles require the actor/performer to play one role and hopefully that role will be an interesting multi-faceted one that carries the story and intrigues the audience. With Our House the main role of Joe Casey requires the actor to take on two contrasting personalities at a crucial early stage in act one and continue doing that right until the end of act two. That takes some doing in a play – in a musical you have the added skill set of very competent singing required as well. Matthew McAuley (Joe Casey) does all this unequivocally well winning over the audience with his easy and likable manner and fine voice given a London vocal veneer. His relationships both as good Joe and bad Joe with Lewis (Robert McAuley) and Emmo (Jack David) are excellent together. All of them bring out the comedy, danger and pathos of the piece as the dual stories unfold on stage. As Sarah – Joe’s on/off love interest, Emily May Corner is a natural on stage and applies plenty of down-to-earth reality to the musical and graces the work with a beautifully moving singing voice. Claire Collishaw as Joe’s mum Kath Casey and Gavin Owen as the narrator styled Dad’s ghost are uniformly excellent. Harvey Latter’s dodgy character Reecey is very well conveyed as is the equally dodgy Pressman given plenty of sleaze and some surface charm by Simon Parker.
If this all sounds a bit grim (and Our House does have a dark side) the comedic bones of the show definitely lay in the very capable hands of Ellie Simmonds (Billie) and her mate Angie played by Megan Fennell. Both Simmons and Fennell are hilariously good and light up the stage on each of their entrances but do it in a manner that doesn’t overshadow the other players.
The Our House set at the May Hall Theatre near Long Eaton is a simple but a very effective one of movable sets of metal shelving that one might find in a bakery which are manipulated by the cast to create rooms and atmospheres. Rob Chilton’s direction is spot on and the actors work well under his guidance. Coupled with high energy company choreography created by David Page LEOS’ Our House moves at an agreeable fast pace. Musical director Charlotte Daniel and her front-of-stage band demonstrate great talents in musical atmospherics and note perfect accompaniment. Further atmospheres are created with a fine palate of lighting and projection effects (David Price) and sound by Sean Renshaw. So, is Our House worth pulling on your ‘baggy trousers’ and ‘driving in my car’ or getting ‘the night boat to Cairo’ via Long Eaton obviously, to see? Well, it’s a ‘simple equation’ and the answer is a definite yes. You’d be mad not to. Oh no, we’ve covered that one.