At this time of year the life of a theatre reviewer (and his illustrious team) can get very very busy. We all have lives outside of reviewing but, as much as we want to, we cannot possibly fit everything in. That said, we would like to redress the balance this December by looking outside of East Midlands Theatre and check out two independent reviews from two of our Nottinghamshire based reviewing friends. Both Kev Castle and Val Allen have recently reviewed a new musical by Tall Tales Productions called The Stationmaster currently playing 14-17 December at The Duchess Theatre Long Eaton. With their blessings, we would love to partially share their thoughts here and encourage you to read their full reviews and also be encouraged to support a new piece piece of musical theatre from our region by booking tickets and enjoying this exciting and mysterious show. Over to Kev and Val …. Phil Lowe
Theatre Online (Val Allen) . Selections of the full review.
‘It’s 1938 and a group of passengers at Prospect Valley station on the East coast of England wait patiently to board a train to the Liverpool docks. Some are full of hope for a new life in America, others are not so sure, but what they all have in common is a need to escape the past and move on. But what is their past, what will be their future and is even their present what it appears to be…?
This is a rollicking good story, full of mystery, emotion and intrigue that although long (a performance time of 2hrs 30 minutes), is never less than fully engrossing. It’s a rich tapestry of interwoven threads, telling the haunting stories of a diverse group of people, through drama and music. There are foot tapping songs that stir and uplift, alongside moving ones with plaintive and beautiful melodies; it’s a wonderful score by Mark Jennison-Boyle.
The narrative keeps the audience on its toes, puzzles abound and there is some juggling of chronology worthy of J B Priestley. The first twenty minutes appear straightforward and then wham! – what just happened? Well, I strongly recommend that you go along and find out!’
The cast are all polished performers, who get to show off not just their vocal talents, but their ability to create engaging and convincing characters. Not all are likeable: Sandy C Lane plays a self-described ‘harridan’, Miss Smith, who is setting off for America to pursue her academic career. A cross between Lady Bracknell and the ‘deaf woman’ in Fawlty Towers, her rudeness and intransigence are acidly portrayed and provide a few smiles. Sandy’s characterisation and diction are absolutely first class. This isn’t a one-dimensional character though, there’s an unexpected back story that is beautifully expressed and performed in her solo I Never Came Close. An emotional moment among many…’
‘Mark Dennison-Boyle and Kim Harris the writers, prove themselves to be consummate storytellers, moving the action swiftly along and developing each character’s profile through vivid flashbacks. This is achieved smoothly with some side stage action and the minimum of changes to the set.’
‘This cast have worked really hard to add extra polish and sparkle to this well crafted piece and this is clearly evident in their mastery of various accents and convincing vocal delivery….’
Read Theatre Online’s full review by Val Allen HERE.
Kev Castle’s review of The Stationmaster. Selections.
‘Written by Mark Jennison-boyle and Kim Harris, this is a ghost story set around World War Two, between 1938 and 1945, about a group of people, all of which have very interesting back stories, as to why they want to board the train and travel to America, which are all revealed throughout this musical. All these people have one thing in common as to why they are all converged on this particular platform at Prospect Valley. Throughout the first half of this musical, it all seemed a bit like a jigsaw puzzle that didn’t seem to fit, but then, come Act two, all the pieces slotted into place. Why was the clock on the platform stopped at eighteen minutes to four? Why was there rust on the tracks? Why was the signal box not working? Why was the Captain still revisiting the platform after he had received the news that was delivered to him by The Stationmaster? There is also a special twist at the end, which could lead to further stories down the line, if you’ll pardon the pun!’
‘Okay, I won’t mince my words here. I was pleasantly confused for most of the play but this has to be one of the loveliest and best written new piece of theatre that I’ve seen in a long while. Having seen “At Journey’s End”, the piece that this musical has developed from, I can completely appreciate why the Stationmaster became the thread which goes through the whole piece.’
‘Mark Jennison-boyle started writing the music around thirty years ago and is absolutely stunning, as have been his past musical ventures. Four years ago, Mark staged an early version of this musical at The Guildhall Theatre in Derby called “At Journey’s End”, and “The Stationmaster” is the result of several rewrites and additions to the soundtrack. It was during the staging of “At Journey’s End” that Kim and Mark met and decided to write together and form Tall Tales Productions. Kim, at that time played the role of The Stationmaster, and it was a development of the back story for the Stationmaster that brought about the change in the name of the musical to what it is now…’
‘The Musical arrangements and production of the songs is by Mark Jennison-boyle, and like his other musical productions is extremely evocative, especially the Music Box section. As usual there are overtones of Celtic influences, which I love. The whole soundtrack is superbly composed, but when seen, and heard as part of an onstage piece just springs to life.’
‘Graham Buchanan is The Stationmaster, and having seen Graham in many different roles over the years, this one tops everything that I have seen him perform. There are many layers to the Stationmaster and Graham reveals these layers throughout. there are some magnificent emotional parts played by Graham, which comes as a contrast to quite a few of his past roles, showing just what a talented actor Graham is.’
Miss Smith is played by Sandy Lane, and is possibly the most fascinating character out of a cast of fascinating characters. To start with you are presented with a bitter and sharp old woman, but as we reach the end of the play, we discover exactly why she is like she is, and you really start to feel differently towards the character. Again I have seen Sandy play many roles over the years, but this part really shows what a brilliant actor Sandy is. This play seems to have brought out the best in many of the actors, and that can only be put down partly to the wonderful characterisation from the writer, as well as the talents of the actors. Brace yourself for an emotional second act with Miss Smith and a wonderful emotional song called “I Never Came Close”….
Read Kev Castle’s full review HERE