Taking musical theatre one step beyond

The cast of Our House, the musical, featuring the songs of 1980s band Madness.

The cast of Our House, the musical, featuring the songs of 1980s band Madness. - Credit: Archant

Review: Our House, by Tim Firth, New Wolsey Theatre, until October 5

Alexis gerred and Lloyd Gorman in Our House, the musical, featuring the songs of 1980s band Madness.

Alexis gerred and Lloyd Gorman in Our House, the musical, featuring the songs of 1980s band Madness. - Credit: Archant

Madness said it best when they penned the lyric ‘Welcome to the House of Fun’ because it serves as the perfect introduction to this cracker of a show.

Alexis Gerred and Daniella Bowen stepping out in Our House,at the New Wolsey Theatre

Alexis Gerred and Daniella Bowen stepping out in Our House,at the New Wolsey Theatre - Credit: Archant

Our House is a glorious musical that mixes the upbeat, infectious music and surreal wordplay of ‘80s band Madness with a satisfyingly dark narrative which gives the story some added depth and power.

Alexis Gerred in Our House, the Madness musical at the New Wolsey Theatre

Alexis Gerred in Our House, the Madness musical at the New Wolsey Theatre - Credit: Archant

Set on the Eastend streets that gave life to the band, it tells the tale of Joe Casey who, on the night of his 16th birthday, breaks into one of a number of unsold luxury apartments to show his girlfriend Sarah the view and talk of his plans for the future.

The cast of Our House, the musical, featuring the songs of 1980s band Madness.

The cast of Our House, the musical, featuring the songs of 1980s band Madness. - Credit: Archant

Unfortunately they are discovered and suddenly his life is at a crossroads. From this point the show by Tim Firth, author of Neville’s Island and Calendar Girls, becomes the story of two alternate realities. There’s the reality where Joe escapes and emboldened by his recklessness is lured into an increasingly dodgy black economy and the other where Joe sees Sarah to safety before offering himself to the police.


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The price of his honesty is a spell at a young offenders institution which blights the rest of his life. Or does it? It’s a tough journey but ultimately an uplifting one – powered by the quirky music of Madness.

This slightly surreal atmosphere is echoed by Mark Walters’ idiosyncratic set which is modelled on Escher’s drawings of endless staircases. The back projections give the show locations a sense of time and place.

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This has to be one of the most technically demanding shows ever mounted at the New Wolsey and happily one of the most accomplished. The set, the back projections and Pete Rowe’s direction are packed with so much detail and incident that you really need to see the show more than once to take it all in.

The show itself is powered not only by the songs but by a bravura performance from Alexis Gerred as Joe Casey who gives both good Joe and dark Joe quite distinct characters but you can see that essentially they come from a common source.

Alexis has his work cut out, not only in delivering a complex internal performance, but also managing some unbelievably fast costume changes as he switches between the black and white worlds which are also mirrored in the set. This means that the audience is never confused as to whose story they are watching.

While Alexis has the stand-out role, it has to be noted that he had exceptional support from Daniella Bowen who plays his girlfriend as Sarah and Rebecca Bainbridge as his Mum Kath – two hugely important people who keep Joe and the show itself grounded in reality.

They also give the show its heart. For all the drama and the dodgy dealings Our House is really about the importance of family, friends and sense of home. It’s about Joe and his relationship with Sarah, his friends and Casey Street.

Most bog standard juke box musicals are content to drop into a contrived story a series of instantly familiar top ten hits by a well-loved band. Our House, armed with a believable stroy with something to say from a well-respected writer opts for a far more satisfying route. It uses and adapts Madness songs as elements in the narrative. It weaves them into the fabric of the action and provides audiences with a way to see into the hearts and minds of Joe and his friends.

All the hits are there: the title track Our House, Driving In My Car, Wings of a Dove, Baggy Trousers, It Must Be Love and One Step Beyond.

In short this works as a proper play because it is born out of the very neighbourhood that spawned the band itself. The show and the staging is not only very inventive, and hugely enjoyable but carries with it a welcome hint of darkness.

The change from traditional West End show with an orchestra to an actor/musician rock’n’roll musical works spectacularly well. My only niggle is that the vocals could be boosted in the mix a bit more.

This is only a minor point as audiences are swept up in a completely absorbing human drama. The standing ovation and the second encore was richly deserved. This is a hugely impressive production and demonstrates what can be achieved with an actor/musician show.

Andrew Clarke

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