Our House Festival Theatre

After a number of years, this musical written around some of Madness’s greatest hits has been revived and is touring the UK. A somewhat curious choice, since the band themselves are long dormant, and there is no particular resurgence of interest in their music at the moment.

Nonetheless, there are still plenty of folk who remember the Nutty Boys with great fondness, and I include myself in their number. The question is – and I asked myself this only the other week after seeing Sunshine on Leith – is hearing your favourite songs sung with varying degrees of skill by the cast of a film or play alter your feelings about them in a positive or negative way?

To be honest, I’m not sure of the answer myself. In the case of Our House, it’s certainly a chance to hear some classic songs of the era once again. Which was why it was disappointing last night that the first half of the show suffered from sound problems that rendered not only lyrics, but some of the plot unintelligible. Fortunately this improved considerably in the second half, and hopefully will have been sorted out for the remainder of the run.

It needs to be, because as pop songs go, there are a lot of subtleties in the Madness songbook that cannot be effectively put across by turning up the volume on the amps and shouting a lot. Likewise, the plot can be hard to follow if you do not quickly work out that there are two separate versions of reality going on, based on the decision that faces central character Joe (Alexis Gerred) at the start: when discovered breaking in to a building to impress his girlfriend Sarah (Daniella Bowen), should he run or give himself up. The parallel plot strands follow “good” and “bad” Joe over the years, intertwining around the scheme to develop Camden’s Casey Street, the success of this resting on forcing Joe’s mum out of the family home.

The predominantly young cast show incredible energy levels in keeping things whizzing along. There’s a constant stream of quick costume changes needed, not just in the two distinct “Joe” personalities, but in the number of parts played by various cast members. Daniella Bowen finds a depth to Sarah that raises her above the two dimensions of many of the characters and mention must be made of Natasha Lewis and Dominique Planter as her friends. Their comic timing lets them do a fair bit of scene-stealing.

An entertaining, if not altogether satisfying production, my reservations being that even if the sound is sorted, the choreography was less than inspired, and the set, which takes up an inordinate amount of the stage, did seem to hamper movement.

Madness fans will love or hate it; others will see it as an undemanding evening’s entertainment.

Jim Welsh