Christleton High School English teacher Howard Kane reviews Our House
Cor blimey! Would you Adam and Eve it? Forget Walford, we’ve moved “norf of the rivah” to Camden, the setting for the Madness musical, “Our House”.
In essence this show is in the tradition of an ‘Everyman’ morality tale. Joe Casey (Greg James) grows up in Casey Street, Camden NW1 in a house (the ‘our house’ of the title) and estate originally built by his grandfather. But things have gone downhill since then.
His Dad (Max Enston) died after a career of criminality based on a series of increasingly bad choices; so Joe has been brought up by his long-suffering single mum, Kath (Jamilla Spauls).
He is a popular figure at school, but in the course of a minor break-in, motivated by a desire to impress his girlfriend, Sarah, (Brogan Craine)
Joe has to make a crucial choice . . . does he give himself up to the police closing in on him or make a run for it?
The musical explores both choices alongside each other and asks us to reflect on which would have been better.
Joe who runs away, escapes the law, and after a minor career in crime goes into property development creating great material success.
Through his calculated charity and good deeds, he even wins back Sarah. He is the envy of his friends and the local community until he gets involved with the very man whose flat he broke into, originally.
In the course of one final big job, he risks undermining everything in a basic act of betrayal. Is his a success story, or has he sold his soul, right from the start?
The alternative Joe takes the rap for breaking and entering, but gets more than he bargained for in the form of a prison sentence and discovering that there is no such thing as “doing time pays for the crime”.
After being released, he is dogged by his initial mistake. He faces prejudice and rejection as he naively proclaims that he is proud to be an ex-offender and sinks further into unintended crime.
Virtue is not valued as any sort of reward as he has to face the contempt and loss of all his friends, including – apparently – Sarah.
The two stories merge quite deftly at the end and the community is preserved.
This is a juke-box musical where a highly successful back catalogue of popular songs by 80’s ska band, Madness, is shoe-horned into a dramatic narrative.
Good houses are built on solid foundations and Tim Firth is a highly respected playwright and film director, who is currently turning his highly successful film, ‘Calendar Girls’ into a musical with Gary Barlow of ‘Take That.’
Clearly influenced by the film, ‘Sliding Doors’ and Willy Russell’s musical, ‘Blood Brothers’ this show has excellent parentage.
The energy, commitment and superb acting, singing, playing, dancing and technical wizardry demonstrated in this school’s production was a joy to watch.
From the excellent band’s overture with wonderfully “smoky” sax playing, to the final ensemble number, there were excellent performances from a cast who supported and totally complemented each other.
The show, which is largely about community and its importance, was made real by the whole ensemble.
The brightly coloured ‘cartoonish’ set, clever use of projections and multi-levelled staging were employed extremely well, especially in the ensemble pieces which gave us many of the greatest hits like ‘Our House’, ‘Baggy Trousers’ and ‘Wings of a Dove.’
The whole cast seemed tireless in their performance energy which seemed to re-energise with each full company production number.
Individually, there were many impressive performances, none more so than Greg James’s dual role as Joe Casey.
His ability to switch from naïve, young man to slick, slime-ball ‘entrepreneur’ within seconds was amazing.
Not only has he great acting ability, both vocally and visually, he was so believable in both roles, but he is also blessed with an excellent singing voice which projected the lyrics clearly and perceptively: he can also dance!
Greg was partnered, equally impressively, by Brogan Craine as Sarah. Not only was her emotional journey beautifully performed but vocally, for me, she produced the highlight of the night, with her deeply-felt and stunningly acted and sung performance of ‘NW5.’
Jamilla Spauls was completely convincing as Kath, and her Irish accent, set against the rest of the cast’s ‘Camdenese’ was a brilliant detail, linked to the social history of Irish navvies working in the late 1900s to build the London Underground, marrying local girls and producing men like Joe’s grandfather who literally built himself a role in his community.
Max Enston had the interesting role of Dad, who as a sort of narrator figure, similar to the role in ‘Blood Brothers,’ attempted to direct his son to make better choices than he did.
He was a menacingly good ghostly presence who blended well in the vocal duets he had with other cast members. Much of the comedy came from the excellent pairs of friends of Joe and Sarah.
Alex Haggart and Nathan Houlbrook as Emmo and Lewis had wonderful comic timing and judged the mix of laddish brashness and little-boy vulnerability, perfectly.
They were a great double act. Kelly Stevens and Katie Trafford were equally good as Sarah’s sharply acidic fairy-godmothers!
They both had great stage presence.
Although Joe Casey is presented as both ‘goodie’ and ‘baddie’ there are two ‘Baddies’ in the show, Reecey and Mr Pressman.
It doesn’t matter whether crooks are ‘small-time’ or ‘big-time,’ they’re still crooks.
Christian Castle caught all the swagger and corruptive influence of the ‘lad on the make’, but possibly more sinister was Meredydd Jones’s Mr. Pressman, whose interview with both Joes was an object lesson in corporate seediness.
All the other small roles were well acted. I particularly enjoyed Osian Williams as Sarah’s nerdy boyfriend.
Massive congratulations must also go to the bricks and mortar of the production, the ‘sparks’ (lighting) and sound technical teams whose work is only commented on if it goes wrong!
Leaping up and down the aural scaffolding, the sound crew managed to get everyone’s voice in focus and without feedback or distortion.
I could have done without the overuse of the roll of thunder cliché, which was meant to signal the switch between the two Joes, but that’s just personal taste.
The use of projection was very imaginative.
I liked the use of opening doors to reinforce the element of choice, and the effects for ‘Driving in my Car’ were brilliant – the ‘Star Wars’ sequence, especially.
I suspect, however, that I was not the only one who, for the first few seconds, was unnerved by the effect of the car being driven at speed, in reverse, down the road!
Much of the thanks must go to the backstage crew, the producers, directors, costume, make-up and props department and everyone else who kept the mixer topped up and rolling to cement this show together.
‘Our House’ was a ‘show house’ of the amazing collaborative work produced by several departments and the amazing opportunities offered by the Christleton Musicals Apprenticeship Scheme which is building brilliance for the future, as seen by the number of ex-students who came back to be part of the show’s crew.
This is one amazing school property which can’t be overvalued.