FIRE ON THE RIVER
The Playhouse, Glen Eden, Auckland
06/10/2016 - 16/10/2016
Spotlight Theatre, Papatoetoe (Allan Brewster Centre, Tavern Lane), Auckland
18/10/2016 - 23/10/2016
The Pumphouse, Takapuna, Auckland
25/10/2016 - 30/10/2016
A sizzling Musical of spectacular proportions based on The Great Fire of London 1666. This year is the 350th Anniversary of this momentous event.
Aucklander Graeme John Webber has written this exciting new Musical. He also wrote the 28 songs and lyrics, incorporating a wide range of music styles. Directed by Jacqui Thorpe, costumes by Pat Lott, this Musical features a large talented cast and a live band led by professional muso George Bonner. In 3 Auckland Theatres during October: ‘Playhouse’ Glen Eden, ‘Spotlight’ Papatoetoe, ‘Pumphouse’ Takapuna. 8pm Start with Matinees Sundays at 3.30pm.
The storyline follows much of the historical data as well as combining zany humour, romance, pathos and drama.
There was massive upheaval for the population of medieval London at this time. Charles 2nd was restored to the Monarchy after Cromell’s 11-year rule and 1665 saw London decimated by Plague – carried by rats infested with fleas.
The Musical is full-on, rollicking through Marketplace scenes to the devastation of the fire itself, involving these real-life historical characters:
Nell Gwynne – a vampy burlesque Mistress to King Charles.
The squabbling Farrinors who owned the Bakery where the fire started.
Scary Mother Shipton who foretold London’s destruction by fire.
Pompous Lord Mayor Sir Robert Bludworthy.
A knighting ceremony of ‘Sir’ Christopher Wren.
Famous Diarists Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn feature, also King Charles 2nd – as well as the eclectic population of this doomed medieval walled city.
Musical content spans harpsichord period pieces to standout Rock’n’roll. 12 years in the making!
You’ll love this rambunctious Musical of non-stop entertainment.
Fire on the River plays (8pm Start with Matinees Sundays at 3.30pm):
Playhouse Theatre, Glen Eden (15 Glendale Road, Glen Eden)
6 – 16 October
Tickets from https://www.iticket.co.nz/events/2016/oct/fire-on-the-river-at-playhouse-theatre
Spotlight Theatre, Papatoetoe (Allan Brewster Centre, Tavern Lane, Papatoetoe)
18 – 23 October
Tickets from: https://www.iticket.co.nz/events/2016/oct/fire-on-the-river-spotlight-theatre
Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna (Killarney Park (off Manurere Avenue), Takapuna)
25 – 30 October
Tickets from: http://pumphouse.co.nz/whats-on/show/fire-on-the-river/
Theatre , Musical , Family ,
Review by Nik Smythe 09th Oct 2016
Graeme John Webber has achieved something only a handful of New Zealanders can lay claim to: writing, composing and producing an original full-scale musical. For this alone he should be quite proud, as must his sizeable cast and crew who span a few generations and degrees of performance experience.
The relatively simple but effectively appealing set comprises a painted Tudor-style townscape backdrop and a number of well-appointed period props. Design and construction is credited to a handful of cast members and stage manager Ruth Chapman, whose own invisible efforts in that department can surely not be understated.
Meanwhile, the exemplary costume design as curated by director Jacqui Thorpe and Pat Lott lends a good deal of credibility to the overall presentation. A rich, colourful pastiche of period attire, traversing the classes, is occasionally interspersed with modern anomalies in conjunction with the music’s occasional anachronistic forays. The distressing of the poorer folk’s garments isn’t always so convincing though, and I’m distracted by how fresh-faced and nicely made-up the supposedly impoverished flint-and-tinder girl is in her ragged gown, struggling to sell her wares on such an ominously hot, dry day.
Humbly positioned offstage-right, the three piece band studiously plays throughout the show. The keyboard covers piano, harpsichord and organ sounds, the guitar doubles for a lute, and the drums keep it all in time. Other than music arranger and advisor George Bonner, the band is unfortunately not named in the programme, and are reportedly a different line-up for each of the three Auckland venues the production is playing in throughout this month, almost exactly three and a half centuries since the event (early September 1666).
Webber’s songbook totals thirty-one numbers, ranging from the upbeat scene-setters and comic jaunts, to more earnest laments and grave declarations. Unquestionably accomplished in breadth, some feel overly simplistic and quite a few tend to be somewhat clichéd and/or twee. This is no doubt in part deferring to the conventional music of the day as well as contemporary nursery rhymes and so on, however there’s definitely scope for further development.
The first act is primarily concerned with introducing us to the local townsfolk as they bustle about on market day, happy and chatty for the most part, with little sense of the ingrained day-to-day suffering that may have been prevalent for the less fortunate peoples of the day. Steve Green plays a local ratcatcher, shunned socially but taking pride in his work being somewhat in demand since the recent resurgence of the infamous plague. At first he’s a kind of chorus, bringing us to this bygone world through his eyes, but the convention is not maintained.
The leading romantic couple are an unnamed minstrel (Paul Greenfield) and the aforementioned flint seller ‘Greensleeves’ (Lily Louise Gerard), with a secondary supposedly more comical courtship between Horace the local blacksmith (Noel Smith) and the widow Mrs Clemens (Tania Malone). The general populace of merchants, peasants and proudly self-proclaimed ‘posh people’ is fleshed out with other fictional folk such as grumpy politician Mr Sheath (Alan J. Thomson) and the archetypal town crier (Graeme Webber).
The players depicting actual figures of the day provide many of the richer, more engaging performances. Notably role-aholic Heath Howes skilfully portrays three historical persons: Lord Mayor Sir Robert Bludworthy, diarist John Evelyn and architect Christopher Wren, plus a couple of other incidental townspeople. Experienced singer Mike Wade-French has a good deal of fun as the ‘merry monarch’ King Charles II, his turn all the more impressive as I read this is his debut as an actor.
Also clearly enjoying herself is Rosemary Lewis as the bawdily self-assured Nell Gwynn, orange seller and ‘happy hooker’ style mistress to the King. Easily the most powerful vocal performance is Kimberley Mankin’s Mother Shipton, the scary Pagan fortune-teller who foretold the impending disaster. By comparison, pivotal figures Mr and Mrs Farrinor (Michael Coats and Kerry Thornton), whose Pudding Lane bakery was the original source of the unprecedented conflagration, fade somewhat alongside such strongly delivered characterisations.
The script is an intriguing blend of direct narration, dialogue and banter between characters, and historical lessons and statistical reports, all generally delivered in a heightened theatrical style and often in rhyme. One particularly jarring scene involves the minstrel and the blacksmith gossiping about Shakespeare, using terms rather before their time such as ‘gay’ and ‘sexuality’. In this scene, the blacksmith demonstrates remarkable eloquence for his class, as do Greensleeves and one or two other townsfolk one would have thought to be less educated than necessary for such articulate philosophical discussion. Again, with some script and direction refinement these meta-moments could conceivably work together with the other stylistic elements to create something quite effective.
As the action heats up (sorry), leading into the second act, the general staginess is more apparent as the cast struggles to dramatically evoke the necessary degree of chaos. The animated projection of flames against the townscape doesn’t build up at all, appearing already full-fledged even as the pompous Lord Mayor is still trying to deny any significant level of danger. More attention to detail within these kinds of production elements are essential to developing the level of gravitas that such an important historical event deserves.
Overall a good deal of commendable effort has been applied to this ambitious, would-be monumental production by the cast, under the stage direction and choreography of Jacqui Thorpe, and of course Webber’s musical direction. Working as they are with a troupe of such varied degrees of performance skills, many of the action and dance routines are kept fairly simplistic, as are the vocal harmonies. Without advocating unnecessary overindulgence of more effective dramatic devices and so on, this premiere production reads to me like a diagrammatic template for what could be possible with a fully equipped professional company.
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