Wolsey show makes sweet music up on the roof

Up On The Roof by Simon Moore and Jane Prowse, New Wolsey Theatre, until May 22

This glorious, warm-hearted musical mixes nostalgia with a feeling of friendship and plenty of rousing a cappella musical performances.

It’s a play which was nominated for an Olivier award when it was first staged in the West End in 1987 and has been unjustly forgotten.

New Wolsey artistic director Peter Rowe has taken this beautifully observed play to his heart and having staged it in Hornchurch in 2006, has now revisited it again at the New Wolsey.

It’s a play in three acts which starts in July 1975 as five university friends say goodbye to each other on the roof of their student digs. The friends are part of an informal a cappella singing group and they end their time at university with talk of the future and a selection of their favourite numbers.

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In the following two acts we jump forward five years to see how they are getting on and how the dynamics of the group shift with the changing fortunes of the individuals.

Peter has cast the play extremely well he has not only mixed and matched voices but personalities too.

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The actors have not only worked hard to draw out individual character traits but a smattering of regional accents also helps to give the roles flavour and make them easier to identify in the audiences mind. The actors are uniformly good, making audiences really warm to their naive, at times ambitious, but ultimately good-hearted youngsters as they set out to make their way in the world.

It would be invidious to single out any one performer as they all work so well together. Gemma Wardle, Gavin Spokes, Stephen Fletcher, Georgina White and Christopher Pizzey all give their roles a believable air of fragility which underlies their optimism.

The action whips along as the audience finds themselves caught up in the lives of these five extremely likeable people. It’s a genuine ensemble show with no hero or lead figure.

There has also been a lot of attention given to the setting of the different eras. Designer Foxton has carefully matched his detailed scenery with evocative clothing (and hair) from the various periods.

But, it is the careful playing of the actors which gives the play its power. None of these characters are stereotypes but come across as real and, at times, flawed individuals. There’s plenty of humour as well some fantastic singing. Numbers include What Becomes of the Broken Hearted, Band of Gold and When Will I See You Again.

It’s show about the enduring power of friendship. It could have saccharin and cloying but it’s bittersweet nature prevents that and ultimately leaves you with an optimistic view on the value of friendship, a smile on your face and a song in your heart as you exit the theatre.

Andrew Clarke

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