The Mitre Players return to The Minack Theatre with the Olivier Award-winning musical written by Tim Firth, the writer of Calendar Girls and featuring the songs of the legendary 1980s group, Madness.
Based in 1980s Camden Town, Our House tells the story of London lad Joe Casey, who, on the night of his sixteenth birthday, takes Sarah, the girl of his dreams, out on their first date. In an effort to impress her with bravado, he breaks into a building site overlooking his home on Casey Street, which is owned by Mister Pressman, a high-end property developer. The police turn up, at which point Joe’s life splits into two: the Good Joe, who stays to help, and Bad Joe, who flees. We follow both threads of his life, each leading to different and thought provoking conclusions.
Featuring a collection of Madness hits including House of Fun, Baggy Trousers, Driving in my Car, It Must Be Love and of course Our House.
The Mitre Players have been regular visitors to The Minack since their production of Wizard of Oz in 1992. Recent Minack productions have included Return to the Forbidden Planet, Monty Python’s Spamalot and Me and My Girl.
OUR HOUSE was first produced at the Cambridge Theatre, London On 28th October 2002.
Producers were Tiger Aspect Productions, Rupert Lord, Andre Ptaszynski and Phil McIntyre in association with Madness
This amateur production is presented by arrangement with Music Theatre International (Europe)
All authorised performance materials are also supplied by MTI Europe www.mtishows.co.uk
Review by James Spencer
A musical featuring songs from a band called Madness could not come at a more apt time, considering the chaos prevalent this past year and which sadly had a knock-on effect on The Mitre Players who began auditions for their production of ‘Our House’ in 2019, but had to postpone it for two years due when Covid struck.
But now they’re back, bringing to life Tim Firth’s musical parable of good and evil on a street in Camden.
Hits like ‘Baggy Trousers’ and ‘It Must Be Love’ are exuberantly performed by the talented orchestra and cast, as the production uses the band’s songs to explore the moral dilemma of Joe Casey who commits a minor crime on the eve of his 16th birthday to impress his girlfriend. Should he give himself up to the police or run away? The play shows these two paths in parallel, using costume as a helpful indicator as to which timeline we are following. At first, I was a little confused when Chris Backway who plays Joe, enters in a white tracksuit after being in a school uniform only moments earlier, but it was quickly apparent that this was a creative way of presenting the two timelines.
‘White tracksuit’ Joe presents the road he will tread if gives himself up to the police, while his black business suited alter ego is the Joe who ran away. Throughout, we as audience members are left wondering which path is the ‘right’ way and with twists and turns in the plot we don’t learn until the very end what the best decision was.
The plot is seamlessly intertwined with classic Madness songs performed by a chorus of largely young performers. Their ensemble energy in ‘Our House’ perfectly expresses the youthful enthusiasm of a house party full of 16 year olds. The vibrant music is perfectly complimented by creatively fun staging, as when ‘Driving in my Car’ features a wooden cut out of a car with five of the cast members all crammed behind it.
The staging is simple but effective. Set designer Jill Wilson has perfectly captured the battle between old and new London, one side of the stage showing a huge billboard with ‘Pressman Developments’ printed across it while, on the other side is a traditional brick terrace house with a bright red door. The conflict between the two becomes apparent as the play progresses. Locations are seamlessly changed with signs and furniture being added to show new locations.
In such an ensemble company it’s unfair to single people out, but we must give a shout-out to Chris Backway for a tour de force performance as Joe. Hardly ever off stage, he drives the play forward with unremitting energy and charm, not to mention making 29 costume changes, some of them cleverly effected in full view of the audience. And speaking of clothing, the wardrobe team of Anna Warnock and Di Jones should be given a medal for their impressive array of costumes, ranging from school uniforms to showgirl outfits.
Director Kevin Gauntlett intersperses the musical numbers with intense moments between Joe and his girlfriend Sarah (played by Thalia Selby). Musical director Colin Warnock not only presents Madness’s songs in their lively glory, but also plays around with instrumentation and tempo to add melancholy undertones to some of them. Choreographer Kim McEvoy creates spirited 80s dance routines which match perfectly the playful nature of the soundtrack. ‘Baggy Trousers’ performed by a pack of reckless teens is a highlight that will have everyone’s feet stomping.
An exuberant production which tackles themes of morality, family, selflessness and responsibility – and a wonderful nostalgic tribute to the vibe of Madness, ‘Welcome to the House of Fun’ indeed!