A beautiful end to Milburn’s time at university, with yet another stunning piece of original writing.
Going into this show, knowing it is a musical entirely written, produced and directed by students, it is easy to be apprehensive. But, with such a talented band playing these gorgeous songs and the cast bringing the script to life, our minds were immediately put at ease.
Opening on a somewhat cringeworthy number about a toilet-related mishap, we are introduced to Patrick Riley, playing Jon Pond. He conveys the physicality and vocals of a 11 year old with admirable ease, well complimented by the sharp and witty performance by his slightly authoritarian parents (Ollie Johnson and Sophie Harvey) whose vocals complimented each other nicely, and who throughout the show, perform Goggin’s clever choreography excellently. They send Jon off to his grandparents as a punishment for his actions and we are taken on an emotional and hilarious journey with all he encounters through this experience. The highlights of this show for me were the ones in which all of the elderly people in the home are together. Particular commendations for executing the elderly characterisation so well go to Hannah Maskell and Elinor Austin, who managed to be funny in scene while not detracting from the principle action. Maskell, as Thunderthighs Georgina, was absolutely hilarious, sniping and was particularly funny in her interactions with Reginald (Jasper Marshall).
When we are first introduced to the Old People’s Home, comedically named ‘Purgatory’, the set of several old chairs and a sofa is revealed, using the somewhat tricky space of The Annex to it’s full potential. Flin (Alex Wareham), who introduces us to the space, has a quite frankly cracking West Country accent, and lightens up every scene he is in from start to finish. His vocals were, as they were in the Spring Showstopper’s production ‘Sweeney Todd’, impeccable, and he sang Milburn’s score with gusto and real excellence. The musical direction of this show in general, was completely brilliant. Milburn and Needs have completely nailed the arrangement of the score and the band, and have very obviously worked hard with the cast to put them at ease and to have the vocals completely sound throughout, particularly in numbers like ‘BINGO’ and ‘Previously on OAP and Me’. The latter number was excellent if not a little chaotic at times, with so much happening on stage at once. Milburn evidently also drew influence from some iconic musical numbers, while taking them and making them his own. An example of this was the Father/Son number that James (John Wilders) and Darren (Johnson) pulled off brilliantly which felt loosely based on Mushnik and Sons from Little Shop of Horrors.
It was also hard not to fall for the gorgeous relationship Jon’s grandparents share, which was raw and relatable and beautiful. Howard-Andrews and Wilders, playing Brenda and James had me in tears as soon as they began telling us the story of how they met through a lovely song. The story was told with lovely choreography, but I did find the vocals in this number a little more cumbersome than in any of the other numbers. This was easy to ignore when we saw their stunning love story and on-stage chemistry however. From this number to the end of Act Two – once we have discovered the untimely fate of the nursing home – I was inconsolable, and this is all down to the incredible portrayal of emotion, family and love by this incredibly talented cast, directed so brilliantly by Antigone Robertson. A relationship that had the potential to be a little tricky was Jon (Riley) and Daisy’s (Tash Laybourne) will they won’t they romance, which has the limits of age involved, making it a touch tongue in cheek. However, this did not overshadow the beautiful friendship that they share, and the excellent on stage chemistry.
The fate of the nursing home dealt with the smart idea of a Talent Show to raise funds to save it from being shut down, which provided some excellent comic chances. I’d like to give a little shout out to the Nurse’s (Beth Mitchell) ‘worm’ ability, and Daisy (Laybourne) and Flin’s (Wareham) little on stage boogie and shimmy, which were excellent. Surpassing all of this however was of course the dance that Jon’s parents (Harvey and Johnson) do with skill and finesse, showing they both evidently have a background in dance. The staging of the whole second act was perfect, and StageSoc particularly nailed it with the tech needed around the tragic element of the show (which I won’t spoil), keeping it professional and not detracting from the moving and emotional part of the show.
This play shows the dynamics of three generations of family, the rebuilding of lost relationships, the saving of a home, and the love shared by friends and family alike. Anyone who has lost a grandparent, parent, or someone close to them either to the clutches of age or illness, will have found this an incredibly moving and beautiful musical. The whole show was professional and slick while still being comical and sensitive. A beautiful end to Milburn’s time at university, with yet another stunning piece of original writing.
Check out Showstoppers’ website here: http://showstoppers-soton.co.uk/shows/67