Our House tells the story of Londoner Joe Casey, who on his 16th birthday breaks into a newly built block of flats to impress his girlfriend, Sarah. When the police arrive he has a decision to make which will change the course of his life. Does he face the music and admit his crime or run away leaving Sarah behind?
The show’s premise is similar to the film Sliding Doors as the results of both decisions are played out on stage to the music of Madness. The plot is more complex and interesting than most musicals and the audience is invested in the outcome. Director Richard Bradford deserves congratulations for producing this difficult show so well and signposting the complexities of the plot for the audience. There was never a time when it wasn’t perfectly clear who was who and what was happening. The scene where the Joe first splits into two and runs off stage in opposite directions in slow motion was inspired direction.
Joe is played by Manor’s usual leading man, James Smith, who has played this part before, though at the Lyceum. He plays the role with an easy charm and is likeable in both versions of his future self. The switches from one to another are often lightning fast and there are some super quick costume changes as the ‘good decision’ character is dressed all in white and the ‘bad decision’ version is dressed all in black. In this way, like an old style western movie, the audience can clearly tell who the goodies and baddies are. To his credit, Smith never appears thrown by what must surely be madness in the wings and he impresses with keeping the two versions of Joe believable. It would be very easy to made Bad Joe a stereotypical Eastenders style villain and this never happens. His singing and dancing are always first rate. One especially impressive costume change happens on stage behind a cluster of umbrellas and earned a ripple of applause from the appreciative audience.
Joe’s love interest, Sarah, is played here superbly by Emily Mae Hoyland. She also has a duel future, marrying one version of Joe and helping the other as he tries to save his mother’s house from property developers. Her character doesn’t change, but she has to act out very different aspects of it and does so very credibly. She loves both Joes but in a beautifully sung solo NW5 which then becomes a lovely duet with Joe’s Dad, she realises that she can’t stay with the dark Joe. Her duet with Joe in It Must Be Love was also excellent, with both actors performing this tricky sung and spoken song perfectly. Her singing was top quality, always clear and strong.
Overseeing all the action is the ghost of Joe’s father, who tries to steer Joe away from repeating his own mistakes. Joe can’t see or hear him which adds to the pathos of their scenes. Simon Hance plays this difficult role extremely well and his duet with Joe is especially good with excellent vocal harmonies. There is a scene near the end where Joe thinks he hears his father’s voice which is played beautifully by both actors and is a quiet touching moment in an otherwise high energy, high volume show.
Most of the comedy is provided by Joe and Sarah’s friends, ably played by Jack Skelton, Digory Holmes, Kirsty Taylor and Emma Flanagan-Holmes. The scene driving in Joe’s car with the projected background was especially clever and very amusing as the six of them reacted brilliantly to the background as they drove along various roads, on a roller coaster and in a Star Wars space scene complete with light sabres. This came across extremely well and was an entertaining highlight of the show. There was also some amazing acrobatic dancing from talented Skelton who has been awarded place at a London drama school.
All the smaller principal roles were played very well – special mention to Sinead Summerhill who brought a real warmth to her portrayal of Kath Casey, and Chris Hanlon and Jonny White who were both very strong as the show’s villains.
The integration of the irrepressible toe-tapping Madness songs helps the pace of the story and they were sung and danced with energy and exuberance by the large and very strong ensemble. Many of the ensemble also had smaller principal roles which were consistently of a very high standard. The London accent was maintained by every speaker. The familiar Madness dance step was well in evidence and performed enthusiastically by a cast which was clearly having a great time on stage. Linda Kelly’s slick choreography was executed very well by everyone. The classroom dance scene was especially good.
The set was very impressive, sliding on and off unobtrusively, sometimes with cast members sliding with it. Hats off to the backstage people keeping on top of all the changes, this was a professional standard set manipulated elegantly.
The show’s only drawback was an issue with uneven sound where the sheer volume of the music overwhelmed some speakers’ diction. The actors could be heard but their dialogue was sometimes unclear. This only seemed to affect some of the higher pitched voices. It is a perennial problem in juke box musicals that the high volume songs can get in the way of hearing lyrics and underscored dialogue. Manor is certainly not the only company to suffer from this and many professional shows struggle with the same issue. The sound has to be loud enough to fill a large venue like City Hall but clarity is sometimes sacrificed as a result.
The enthusiastic audience absolutely loved the show and gave the cast a standing ovation at the end which bodes very well for the rest of the run.
A highly enjoyable evening at the theatre, with professional standard performances from the whole cast.
Our House continues at City Hall, Sheffield until 18 May starting at 7.15pm plus a matinee on Saturday at 2pm. Tickets can be booked online at www.manoroperatic.com or by calling City Hall on 0114 2789789.