Newland: a musical at the Camden Head

Tuesday, 6 September, 2011

Applause all round

London – The Camden Head – 25-28 August 2011

On a small stage in the upstairs of a London pub, an old saloon bar has been imagined.  There is a large wooden divider screen strewn with wanted posters.  Six characters enter the stage dressed like they are out of a western.  There is a sheriff in a red striped shirt, complete with hat and a badge.  There is a man all in black with a black hat on.  One woman has blue jeans and a cream lace blouse on.  Another woman has a black corset and a long red velvet skirt on.  The two final men are dressed all in black too.

The musical has fourteen songs in total.  The first song ‘It Starts Right Here’ is sung by the whole cast.  ‘Gold’ is sung by Wilson.  It is all about gold fever and the pursuit of wealth.  ‘Find Me’ is sung by Harvey.  He is the sheriff of Ashfall in California.  His deputy has been overcome with jealousy and plots to kill Harvey.  Harvey gets shot but is helped by his friend Wilson.  Harvey then goes on the run, presumed dead.  ‘Harvey’s Arrival’ is an instrumental where Harvey comes across the town of Newland.  He meets Rebecca.  He seems to like her.  What is her story?

Charlie and Ned, Newland dwellers, sing ‘You Might Think We Look Like Millionaires’.  Rebecca sings ‘That Just Ain’t Me’.  She is a strong woman who is her own person.  She wants to be loved but does not want to compromise on her values and character.  She sings about being what is perceived as a lady but that this ideal simply is not her.  Rose sings ‘Believe Everything That You Hear’.  She is a saloon lady who sings seductively to two men.  Harvey, who sees Rose leave, then sings ‘You’ve Given Me The Sun’ looking off into the space she left and the direction she travelled.  It turns out that he knows Rose and loves her.  Some old affections remain and may be explored.

Wilson and Grayson sing ‘This Is No Time To Fall.  Rose and Rebecca follow with ‘Has There Ever Been A Man’.  They are both somewhere thinking about the same man and their feelings for him.  The man is Harvey.  The love triangle is planted.  The rest of the story involves further twists and turns to the story with songs ‘Then It All Went Wrong’ sung by Harvey, ‘Just A Whiskey Drinker’ sung by Ned and Rupert, ‘I Thought I Knew Him’ sung by Rose and the grand finale ‘Newland’ sung by the full cast.

This musical is amazing.  This word is not being used lightly here.  It is truly amazing.  It astonishes, surprises and is delightful.  There is much wide-eyed wonder at the skill and beauty of it all.  It is like being transported into an old musical from the past with all the great tunes, action, suspense and the requisite love story.  The feeling is like being on a rollercoaster that just keeps going up and never comes down.

The cast are amazing and are talented singers.  The full cast sing the opening song ‘It Starts Right Here’.  It is a powerful show tune.  It is upbeat and impacts well.  It sets the tone for the rest of the play and sets it very high. It sounds like something out of Broadway.  There is a stunned silence of respect and wonder after this.  The rest is equally remarkable.

Joe Eldridge plays Wilson and Rupert.  He has a good voice and facial expressions that tell the whole story.  When singing ‘This Is No Time To Fall’, he does jazz hands, spins and side steps to success.  He tells the story through his song and actions all the words as if in a conversation.   It is charming to watch.  Joe Eldridge plays both characters well and with their own mannerisms.  The contrast is applied well.

Marc Borthwick plays Harvey and the Store Owner.  His solo of ‘Find Me’ is moving.  He has a great range in his voice.  The song is tender.  It is felt and experienced as he sings.  Marc Borthwick draws the attention to him during the whole performance.  When sitting listening to Charlie and Ned singing the ‘millionaires’ song to him as the Sheriff, he sits there with an astute nonchalance.  Marc Borthwick’s solo ‘You’ve Given Me The Sun’ is touching and heart-warming. His voice increases in power and emotion as it progresses.  The love of his character for Rose seems real.  He holds his hat in his hand against his chest as he sings this.  It is subtle and effective.  Marc Borthwick’s change into the Store Owner is priceless.  The gait and the voice alone are something to experience.

Mitch Lathbury plays Ned and Mayor Rigby.  He looks resolute on stage.  His duet with Gregory Hazel is engaging and enjoyable.  His voice is good.  He is amusing at the right times and serious at the right times.  Mitch Lathbury supports and encourages the other actors too and keeps the pace.  It is a good quality.  As Mayor Rigby, Mitch Lathbury straightens and takes on a tall and proud manner, quite the Mayor.

Gregory Hazel plays Charlie, Johnny and Grayson.  It is amusing to see his mannerisms and facial expressions.  He plays the character in the background who sneak out at times, watchful and absorbing the situation.  At times he allows himself to come out and take the limelight too but always cautious and aware.  It felt that Gregory Hazel was holding back a little however.  There was more to be set free.

Sarah Atkinson is the feisty Rebecca.  She is strong and seems to have had a hard life fighting to be a woman in a male-dominated world.  She plays her tough and maintains the eye contact of her male counterparts.  You feel sympathy and empathy for Rebecca.  Sarah Atkinson gives a striking performance.  Her voice is good.  The solo ‘That Just Ain’t Me’ is touching.  The duet with Harriet Payne for ‘Has There Ever Been A Man’ is poignant and they harmonise well.

Harriet Payne plays Rose.  She sings ‘Believe Everything That You Hear’ well and seductively.  She plays it like an old cabaret singer or saloon lady who flirts with the customers, the two men.  It is a skill to be able to do this, as it is quite intimate.   Harriet Payne plays a range of emotions well as her character goes through various experiences and changes.  Her gradual transformation and altered mindset is seen through the duration of the performance.

Thomas Giron-Towers has directed an accomplished musical.  Each character works well individually and complements the others.  They fit like a nice western puzzle.  No tumbleweed here.  The idea to use the male actors in a variety of roles was clever and allows them to show a range of acting skills.  It is the comic versus the sober character.  Each one has unique actions attributed to them and you can easily differentiate between multiple characters played by the same actor, even if there was not a costume change.  It is a great piece for any actor and/or singer.  It is a great show to go and see.  The story is so engaging that one feels a part of it and totally absorbed into it as if going on the journey with the characters in real life.  A fight in the saloon was mentioned.  The thought of maybe going over to check it out and see if it was as bad as suggested may have briefly passed through the thoughts of some.  How odd you say?  How wonderful I say.

Grant Martin, the musical director, has done a superb job.  Each song is unique and fits with all the others perfectly.  The opening ‘It Starts Right Here’ is a powerful start and utilises the whole cast and draws everyone in.  ‘Find Me’ is charming.  The music sounds like someone running away from a menacing pursuer at pace.  It includes an impressive crescendo.  ‘You Might Think We Look Like Millionaires’ sounds like it is off Broadway.  It is fun and one can imagine the two men talking naturally and bursting into song.  These are songs you tap your foot to, you want to get up and dance to then go home and learn them.

The songs complement the story and enhance it.  ‘Believe Everything That You Hear’ follows ‘That Just Ain’t Me’ knowingly.  Rebecca is a strong woman who sings about not wanting to be take on the femininity that people may want, Rose is a feminine woman who wants to be taken more seriously.  It is an adept comparison.  They seem to be opposites and somehow want to be like the other.  ‘Then It All Went Wrong’ is foreboding.  It is creeping along and has the sense of something ominous.

Grant Martin is animated throughout the performance as he plays each song.  He watches the actors and responds to them.  The relationship is perfect.  There is one point where a character directs a question to him and he sings or says ‘No’.  It is comical and unexpected.

Nikki Laurence has done a great job as vocal coach.  The accents are strong, believable and the actors maintain them throughout the performance.  Jared Martin’s technical skills deserve a mention too.  Everything on stage looked impressive and surely everything behind the scenes was the same.

All involved should be thoroughly proud of this new musical.  Applause all-round.

Wanted Poster: full cast and company of Newland to bring this show to the west end for all to enjoy over and over again.  Let’s all go to Newland.

Cast Credits:  Sarah Atkinson – Rebecca.  Marc Borthwick – Harvey/Store Owner.  Joe Eldridge- Wilson/Rupert.  Mitch Lathbury – Ned/Mayor Rigby.  Gregory Hazel – Charlie/Johnny/Grayson.  Harriet Payne – Rose.

Company Credits:  Director – Thomas Giron-Towers.  Musical Director – Grant Martin.  Vocal Coach – Nikki Laurence.  Technical – Jared Martin.

© Chantal Pierre-Packer 2011

Reviewed Friday 26th August 2011

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