Our House – review (Stowmarket Operatic & Dramatic Society, 30th April 2022)
Firstly, Our House, the Madness musical, is a lot of fun. As you’d imagine, a fair number of up-tempo Madness songs have been transformed into musical numbers. The music is infectious, and whilst the cast of the show are no doubt sick of Madness by now, it served as a reminder to us in the audience of just how many bangers the band churned out in the 80s.
As far as Stowmarket Operatic & Dramatic Society, and we’ll refer them by their acronym from here on, SODS, as far as the SODS’ production went, we were treated to a very competent, energetic, and slick performance. The whole cast appeared extremely well-drilled in terms of choreography, and the numerous scene changes were managed brilliantly by the crew in what was quite a tight space. A special mention has to go to the five-piece band, who had a lot of iconic numbers to get through, and did it admirably while at the same time sounding like a much larger unit.
The lead role as Joe Casey, whose two very different paths we follow throughout the course of the show, was played by Mark Littlewood, and he handled what was quite a daunting part with ease. His role was a constant whirl of off stage left, on stage right, and costume change after costume change, but he never once appeared fazed or flustered. I guess it helped that what we saw was the final performance, but he and the team around him must take a lot of credit for ensuring a really smooth performance.
Playing opposite Mark was Sharon Preece as Joe’s ‘will they/won’t they' love interest, Sarah. Now I’ve not seen the SODS perform before, but I could tell that Sharon has an experienced head on her shoulders, as she had a real presence about her, and vocally, she was the stand-out performer. Hers and Mark’s duet in ‘It Must Be Love’ in particular was excellent.
The cast generally looked like they were having a lot of fun, but the two young lads playing Emmo and Lewis, Joe Marsh and Louis Warner, clearly were having a whale of a time in their roles as Joe’s best mates, and it really shone through in their performances.
Cassandra and Craig Fisher, who are married off-stage as it happens, played mum and dad to Joe on-stage, and both played their parts beautifully, adding a real heart to the show, and a special mention should go to Cassandra for her faultless Irish accent.
While I prefer to focus on the positives, I don’t feel it makes for a particularly honest review if I don’t also mention when something didn’t quite hit the mark. And in this production, first of all, the stage at The Regal didn’t quite seem ideally set up for musical theatre, as while it was admirable of SODS to use a live band, they were positioned on one side of the stage, rather than behind, above, or in an orchestra pit. This meant that quite often some of the lyrics got drowned out. This probably wasn’t helped by some of the songs themselves being a bit ‘talky’ rather than belted out, but that’s something they probably should have taken into account beforehand.
Some of the set and scenery looked a bit half-arsed, to be honest. They’d clearly gone to a lot of effort with the Casey Street sign and the doors, and the Morris Minor, but things like the signs for the Chemist and the Sex Shop just appearing to be scrawled with a black marker on a piece of cardboard was what let them down a bit.
And a pet hate of mine, and something that separates the amateurs from the professionals, is the way the cast exits the stage at the end of a scene or musical number. At times it appeared the cast adopted the attitude of “right, the song’s finished”, and then their shoulders all dropped and they sloped off towards the curtain on one side of the stage and in no particular order. At one point there literally was a queue of people waiting to leave the stage. It’s a minor thing, I know, but it’s something that helps to contribute to the smooth running and the momentum of a show, and unfortunately what I saw looked messy in places. The fault very much lies at the feet of the Director and the Choreographer, as it is something they should spot, and it’s very easy to put right.
However, that shouldn’t detract from what overall was a very enjoyable and well put together show, and I hope to be able to see the SODS again in their next show, which is Daisy Pulls it Off which they’ll be performing in July.