1983 - The Concert

Sat 15th November 2014

reviews

Leah Byrne

at 20:59 on 16th Nov 2014

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When I first considered the idea of 1984 in musical form, I must admit that the thought of Big Brother and Winston Smith battling it out showbiz-style (with jazz hands, glitter and showgirls, no doubt) was both vaguely horrifying and morbidly fascinating. However, this musical prequel of sorts was, thankfully a different ball-game entirely; any suggestion of spangled costumes or camp chorus numbers was put to rest within the first bar of music. As far as musical go, it’s far from the usual fare, and one has to give credit to Gavin Dale for his musical score and libretto, which combine ambitious, idiomatic rock ballads with a Miss Saigon-esque military presence that stands at the heart of the score.

The opening number, which I presume is called “Oncoming Storm” immediately evoked this military presence to great effect: the dissonant, staccato chords played against stirring, anthemic melodies create an instantly rousing atmosphere; even for those unfamiliar with the context or events of George Orwell’s novel, nobody is left in any doubt as to the nature of the central rebellion. The chorus are at their (perhaps premature) best here, tackling with commendable vigour the tricky, cascading polyphonic lines which, coming at the audience wave after wave, create an impressive precedence which the rest of the show sometimes (but most certainly not always) doesn’t quite live up to. There are moments of magic dotted around the score, most notably the fiendishly fast “Run from the City” and a moment close to the end which showcases the impressive timbres of the three basses in a chilling, a capella rendition of an almost hymn-like melody.

Of the principal cast, Jack Reitman as Big Brother was probably the most typical musical theatre performer, his easy, smooth tones accurately conveying his authority over his rebellious younger brother Eddie, played by Tom Grant, lending their scenes together an intentionally patronising tone beyond that normally used by older brothers. Grant, one of the standout performers of the night, holds his own against Reitman admirably, his rougher, rockier voice (compared with Reitman’s effortless and controlled one) vocally demonstrating his defiance against the “R-evolution”. For a more contemporary performer, he exercised considerable vocal control, particularly within the falsetto sections, his technique matched almost flawlessly by Sandra Kassman as the ominous “Matron”, a sinister Mrs-Lovett type figure who oscillates furiously between purring and growling (in as musical a fashion as possible, of course). This standard is matched by that of the orchestra, who tackle head-on the exciting score with flair, theatricality and energy; unsurprisingly, at the curtain call they received the heartiest applause from the audience.

So was 1983 what I had expected? Not at all. But I, for one, am glad to have experienced a concert full to bursting with passion and rough edges that only contributed further to its inherent likeability, and to have escaped the jazz hands for a night. Bring on March 2015, people.

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