Review: Our House – New Wolsey Theatre

A simple split-second decision can alter our lives irrevocably; what may seem the most innocuous of life choices can have major repercussions.

For Joe Casey, growing up in Camden prospects seem bleak but the choice he makes on the night he turns 16 will shape both his and his girlfriend’s future. It all seems such a simple choice – flee or fight – but the consequences are quiet unexpected.

In Our House, Tim Firth’s musical based on the songs of Madness, we get to see the paths both options take as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Joe journey into adulthood.

This dual view is an inspired plot device, raising Our House way above your standard jukebox musical into a fully-fledged piece of musical drama with a strong plot and a real emotional punch.

Of course, the dramatic narrative of the Madness songs adds much, but the musical numbers are integrated so well into the script that it is easy to forget these were crafted as individual numbers rather than for the musical score. Baggy Trousers, Driving In My Car, Night Boat to Cairo, The Sun and The Rain – all weaved seamlessly into a strong and convincing plot.

Director Sally Scurrell has moved the original contemporary setting to the early 1980s and it certainly adds some period colour to the piece, although perhaps sits a bit too early for the supposed property redevelopment boom in Camden.

Our House is an immensely challenging show for a company to stage, quick-fire costume changes, doubling, and the complex rhythmic structure of the Madness songs themselves. On opening night it’s not a challenge that the company always pull off, a few sound and lighting issues detracted from the performances, and the sharpness of one of two scenes needs tightening. These issues should easily be resolved, though, as the show’s run continues.

The cast are obviously having great fun with this infectious musical and there are several impressive performances. Sam Horsfield and Simon Bowen are vocally strong as Joe’s parents and Tom Mayhew, Mike Cook, Rachel Lucock and Charlotte Mitchell provide some wonderfully observed comic creations as the warring friends of Joe and his girlfriend, Sarah.

As the young lovers, Joe Leat and Vicky Jam create the real emotional heart of the evening, singing beautifully but also giving the characters a real depth. Leat has an especially tough ask, rapid changes to move from good and bad Joe mean his is an incredibly physical performance.

After their success with Rent last year, Gallery Players have shown that there is a rich catalogue of contemporary musicals out here for companies to tackle, in preference to the much trod path of 1950s musicals.

Our House has sold out for the week’s run already but, if you manage to find a return, dig out those baggy trousers, don your pork pie hat and head down the street for a night of drama in NW1.

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