REVIEW: Our House (LWMS, Royal Spa Centre)
Our House is a bold and rumbustious delight on Leamington stage
When the ebullience of Madness meets the energy of Leamington & Warwick Musical Society, it’s no surprise to find the Spa Centre becoming a House of Fun for the night.
It takes a certain courage to stage Our House. The society would have been forgiven for playing it safe and sticking with a guaranteed crowdpleaser, especially with money so tight for many at the moment and in the wake of a series of hit productions including Cats and Evita.
But the boldness has paid off. The show has a rumbustious verve and deserves to be another big success.
Set in Camden Town, Our House tells the story of London lad Joe Casey, who, on the night of his 16th birthday, takes Sarah, the girl of his dreams, out on their first date. In an effort to impress her with bravado, he breaks into a building site. The police turn up, at which point Joe’s life splits into two: the Good Joe, who stays to help, and Bad Joe, who flees.
The show is what’s known as a ‘jukebox’ musical. What Mamma Mia! did with Abba and We Will Rock You did with Queen, Our House does with Madness, linking all the hits with a story. There is an inevitable amount of contrivance as a result, and the Sliding Doors-style conceit means the action is not always easy to follow. But while it can be an untidy watch at times, there is no doubting the talent of those onstage, and backstage too.
Kieran Corrigan makes his Leamington debut as Joe Casey and has already proved himself a huge asset to the society. He brings equal parts of swagger and vulnerability to the role – or, rather, roles – and his singing is a joy, bringing out the songs’ blend mischief and emotional directness.
Sarah is played by Nelle Cross, and there can hardly have been a more reliably superb performer in the history of the society. It is a pity her part is somewhat underwritten, because everything she does is done with a captivating presence and polish, flitting between the humorous and the heartbreaking with rare ease.
Ben Munday plays Joe’s Dad. It is not an easy role, not least because the character is dead, for most of the show at least. But he skulks around in ghostly fashion, offering his own commentary on his son’s life and loves and misdemeanours and dispensing hard-earned advice. The part does not necessarily play to all of Ben’s strengths, but he conveys a winning sincerity as the emotional heart of the piece, his voice simultaneously tender and resounding. Jo Banbury is another stand-out performer as Joe’s mum Kath, a portrait of maternal love and exasperation.
Huge credit is also due to choreographer Emily Lewis, musical director Matt Flint and Sandy Weaver, who is responsible for getting the show’s 300-odd costumes on the right people at the right time. Stephen Duckham directs with his customary pace and precision.
And Madness come out of it well, too; their ‘nutty boys’ image has sometimes obscured their immaculate songcraft and musicianship. Our House, Baggy Trousers, Driving in My Car, My Girl, Tomorrow's Just Another Day – they’re all here, sounding fresh and spirited as ever.
It may not be for everyone, and the odd line may be a bit risqué for some, but Our House is another triumph for our local talents, who do this all in their spare time. How do they keep pulling it off, year after year? It must be love.