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We were privileged to be witness to the World Premiere of a new musical, written by Richard Cowling, and performed in the atmospheric venue of St Andrew’s Church, which lent itself very well to the overall feel of the piece.

Based on Daphne Du Maurier’s iconic novel based on her own experience, the tale of smugglers, greed, duplicity, love and hate was played out before us.

I thought the music was challenging for both cast and orchestra, but in the main it worked, although there were a few rough edges that needed attention, mainly concerned with diction, and the sound balance between stage and orchestra, always a test of technical skill from the team, in such a difficult venue.  I thought Act 2, although essentially good, was a little different in terms of finesse to Act 1, it felt a little rushed in some aspects.  But don’t let me take anything away from the fact that this is a new and exciting project.

Another small problem was timing between the singers and orchestra, sometimes they were not entirely together.  That said the musical structure was very interesting and the at times discordant harmonies and unusual intervals of notes, allied to good performances, made this a remarkable piece of theatre.

It was good to see some young musicians alongside the more experienced orchestra members, but I would think it was an extremely challenging score for them to get their heads around, however, they all did extremely well.

The set was simple, but fulfilled the various levels required to accommodate the action, and gave the Director plenty of opportunity to create the tensions and tableaux within the action.  The lighting plot from Paul Horsler and Will Jackson served to enhance the darkness and occasional gaiety of the plot.

I thought the costumes were very suitable, and looked right, they were worn well by the cast.  The makeup was very stylised, but again suited the feel of the piece.

There was a certain quirkiness in some of the musical numbers, that took us away from the more classical nature of the main drift, adding interest and contrast.  The Ballad of Young Jimmy had the feeling of a folk song, whilst the opening scene of Act 2 was reminiscent of ‘Oliver’ in content, but had a very earthy feel, that suited the Market Day it represented.  

The choreography was quirky and suited the feel of the piece, being very sharp, but not too modern, and worked well on the confines of the stage space.

The finale of Act 1 was very atmospheric, whilst Act 2 finale left us on a positive note.

I loved the relationship between Mary and Jem, touching but realisitic, and within a good cast I felt that Ellie Turton and Reece Lowen stood out.  Ellie is a fairly new talent to me, but she has a depth of feeling and expression, supported by a lovely voice, portraying a more worldly wise country girl, whilst Reece has come on so much, and sang with emotion, whilst retaining the simplicity of a country boy.  His voice has strengthened and deepened in tone – so nice to witness. A certain innocence and charm from both performers sat well with the darker characters.

Michael Niles created Joss, the very dark and dangerous inn keeper, such cruelty and intent in his portrayal, I enjoyed his song Drink, quite discordant but creating the feel of the character early on.  A good foil to the other individuals.

Unfortunately from where we were sitting, we couldn’t see Mrs Bassat in the Montage number – because of where the Squire and Richards were placed on the runway.

I liked Frances Hall’s portrayal of Mrs Bassat, both patrician in look and demeanour and then kindly towards Mary.  I liked the humour she gave Market Day, a nice departure from her more prim and proper interpretation of the Squire’s wife.

Keith Turton was Squire Bassat, giving the impression of a moral but not too unkindly man, who could be more brutal in his decisions if necessary.  A nice partnership between Keith and Frances.

Nathaniel Reeve-Smith as the Squire’s henchman, gave us some nice touches.

David Mills created a seemingly straight forward Vicar, Frances Davey, and not having read the book I was not aware of his duplicity, but knew there was something not quite right!  So when he revealed his satanic side, I was not surprised.  I thought David played his part well, and his undoubted singing talent lent itself well to the numbers.  In his way, as nasty as Joss, although much more evil and underhanded.

Patience was nicely created by Jane Hopton, a good foil to Joss, and a caring aunt to Mary.  Some good meaningful music to get her teeth into, which contrasted well with the lighter more youthful feel of Mary.

The secondary principal parts were all played well, and I enjoyed the contribution from them and the ensemble.

I particularly enjoyed the Like a Lamb section, which created a real feel of the church, and emphasised the cunning of the vicar in retrospect.

In summary, I was happy that this new work had so much to recommend it, and I hope that Mr Cowling is able to publish it as a work that will be performed by other companies, and even on the professional stage.  

Very well done to everyone involved, they had obviously given their all in support of Richard and his work, which had been lovingly crafted into a dark but exciting piece of musical theatre.

St. Andrew’s Players


review date: 19th May 2017 - St Andrew’s Church, Luton

    Directed & Composed by: Richard Cowling

MD: Terry Driver Choreographer: Jo Harris

Choreographer: Jo Harris

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