From the band that made “the nuttiest sound around”, a pretty nutty musical has been inspired.
A day trip romance on the end of Margate Pier starts the history of Joe Casey (Alexis Gerred). Fast forward and Joe is “16 today and out for fun” but what fateful road will he take? The hopeless route of his long gone father or the slick, quick buck world of Pressman Property Developers – in other words an unlucky guy with no prospects or a wealthy crook?
In the style of the film Sliding Doors, Joe’s dual fates are acted out but a more straightforward narrative would have been just as effective, cutting down on the vast amount of quick fire costume changes for the hard working cast. (The show is in the Guinness Book of Records for the highest number of quick changes!) Joe’s girl Sarah (Daniella Bowen) loves him through either scenario even when her own life offers a more secure and promising path. Joe’s great grandfather had the street in Camden Town named after him and had earned the right for him and his family to inhabit the house in perpetuity. The fate of the house and the fate of Joe are at the centre of this fast pace, high energy musical.
At the height of their success, Madness was as well known for their wacky, comic and highly theatrical videos that accompanied their singles, so the idea of a stage musical as a canvas for their unique brand of ska music and identifiable look on life was a logical step. Their deceptively simple lyrics deal with everyday issues in life while subtly commenting on larger themes lending themselves well to storytelling.
The complex narrative of alternative lives is played out against fabulous neon lit set from Mark Walters that uses brilliant visuals by Will Dukes and Mike Higgs. From the giant flying ducks on flock paper to the steady marching shadows of prisoners to Just Another Day they create atmosphere with panache. Two of the three mono coloured doors turn to the trade mark black and white of the ska scene that is echoed in the versatile steps of the set.
From the opening strains of Return of Los Palmas 7 to the boisterous finale of One Step Beyond, the excellent live musicians and singers perform the hits and favourites from a large Madness repertoire. But this is more than a showcase. Joe’s Dad’s salutary refrain of Simple Equation and Sarah’s solo of NW5 added poignancy to the unfolding story. The ska dancing style is spot on throughout, catching the stylised compact energy of the era but the Union Jack brolly scene seemed incongruous, making the dancers look like constrained Gene Kellys and as did the glitz and glamour of the Vegas scene because it was so far from the Madness style.
Though condoms were referenced throughout, House of Fun, the Madness song about a young lad trying to buy condoms, was missing. It was the only song in the show given new lyrics, appearing as a kind of modern operatic interlude with more than one character singing the lines at a slower pace than the original and that only appeared the form of a few introductory bars melding with another tune. Technical hiccoughs are in the lap of the gods and the slight issue of some buzzing mics was quickly overcome doing little to distract from the quality of the performers and musicians.
At times the show felt more like welcome to the House of Correction than to the House of Fun but this hard working ensemble put on a good show with a moral message. It is a cocky tip of a pork pie hat to the music of the six North London Crombie coated lads who created a trademark style of gallus ska exuberance that has gone down in pop history.
Tuesday 15 – Saturday 19 October, 7.30pm
UK tour continues