Thursday 8th August 2019 at Nottingham’s Albert Hall.
Nottingham Playhouse offer up the fantastic tale of Coram Boy on a grand scale with this latest production. Combining a professional company and a community cast in an ambitious staging of this great tale, the production is a testament to the importance of investment in young performers and inclusivity within community theatre.
Helen Edmundson adapts Jamila Gavin’s novel well with all key elements intact. Set in the 18th century, the story itself is compelling and winding with gritty subject matter and some great twists. The narrative is essentially two strands which eventually intertwine as worlds collide. In one strand, a young boy finds a great passion and skill with music, but coming from a privileged home expecting great things of him in other fields, Alexander’s own hopes and dreams do not look set to fare well.
Meanwhile, a scheming glutton masquerades as an employee of the Coram Foundling Hospital which takes in orphaned and abandoned children providing safety, access to health care and an education. In Otis’ hands, children don’t get an easy ride to salvation in Coram’s name. So as Otis preys on young women terrified of defiled reputations, young Alexander is discovering that ‘nothing is higher than music’ and while desperate to pursue his musical education, Alexander too faces an unpleasant journey.
This story offers timeless themes of friendship, family and love while championing our individual passions for the things that make life worth living. All of that runs alongside the well handled grittier portrayals of London and its inhabitants at the time: those trading children for their own gains; those willing to condemn women with child before marriage and those looking to exploit the vulnerable at any given opportunity.
There are a number of stand outs here, led very capably by Karr Kennedy who impressively carries the first act as the angst-ridden youngster with a desperate passion for music. Kennedy’s intensity is brilliant and well contrasted with the bumbling optimism of pal Thomas, played with great energy by Rachel Burbridge. Older versions of the duo offer skilful continuity of characterisation and Harry Pavlou and Jack Quarton pick up the mantles with a great sense of cohesion.
Other stand outs include villains, namely Tim Samuels as the heartless Otis and Amanda Pearce as the opportunist Mrs Lynch – the latter giving a very winning performance with a devil may care drawl and no time for foolery. Sophie Collier is fantastic as the torn sister of Alexander and Michelle Bland and Kevin Brown give strong performances as the much divided parents of the defiant young boy. Cody Harrison and Blaine Koussai are also great as the young Coram foundling boys caught up in peril and servitude.
Particularly great to see is that the staging makes use of every nook and cranny of Nottingham’s Albert Hall to tell the tale en masse. Adam Penford’s direction is impressive in its handling of the large volume of individuals performing – admittedly, there is at times a sense of every man and his dog being on stage and there are pockets of onerous entrances and exits which are a hazard with such an episodic piece but by and large the direction keeps things moving along very nicely with no risk of lost engagement.
It’s wonderful to see the Albert Hall transformed simply into a stage space (Kevin Jenkins), benefitting immensely from the location with its grand organ forming a central focus both visually and within the narrative (Organist: John Keys). It’s also a location which offers the unique opportunity to hear the beautiful choral music which frequently accompanies the action in a beautiful setting with those acoustics.
This is an ambitious piece of combined professional and community theatre which utilises a grand space to tell a sprawling, engaging tale on an impressive scale. As far as community productions go, this goes above and beyond the norm and with the parting scene displaying the true extent of the towering task of staging such a piece, there’s much to appreciate and applaud.
Coram Boy plays Nottingham Albert Hall until August 10th 2019 and you can find tickets here.