Based on The Who & Pete Townshend's concept album from 1969 - Tommy, the musical of the same name narrates the story of a young ‘deaf, dumb and blind kid’ who’s ability to play a pinball machine leads to both his success and downfall. It is a heartwarming story about isolation, family and communication and in this production by New Wosley Theatre Ipswich and Ramps On The Moon it is one of the most visually striking pieces of new musical theatre and casting a deaf actor - William Grint – as Tommy, really provides strength in performance as the character is abused and led astray before breaking down at the end as his success becomes overpowering.
Neil Irish’s strikingly appropriate set design is impacting right from the preset. It reflects not only the inside of a metal pin ball machine but also the harsh metallic feel of the 1940s wartime Britain with colour changing light bulbs and LED strips down the set. The addition of having the show’s band (lead by Musical Director Robert Hyman) on view upstage is also nice allowing for a constant reminder that this is a musical story. Even with this, it does not feel like a standard jukebox musical and is instead fully integrating in its music and narrative, making its appearance fresh and relatable. Design in the show reaches a real high point at the end of act one: Pinball Wizard which is punchy and poignant as Townshend's music soars across the metallic set, and the stage explodes into colour and movement, heightened by Arnim Friess lighting and AV design which really reflects the inside of a pinball machine.
Ramps on the Moon's enhancements in utilising accessible theatre in the performers and staging is what is the real success behind the piece. Placing the protagonists’ disabilities as a ‘deaf, dumb and blind child’, as the thematic driving force for the take on this musical really lifts the piece and its integration into the main staging of it through Kerry Michael’s direction really works. Alongside this, Mark Smith’s choreography is cleverly driven by sign language itself, lifting the words through what is being sung and being captioned onto the back wall.
One element that could be worked is the underdeveloped plot points in the latter of act two and a particular lack of character exploration in the young girl Sally (Amy Trigg) and Acid Queen (Peter Straker). Despite the two being very strong performers – and Straker's vocals are immense for the role – their characters are questionable in the grand scheme of the narrative.
The rest of the cast are also strong, with particular highlights from Julian Capolei and Matthew Jacobs-Morgan as the voices of Tommy and Alim Jayda as Frank (the lover). The three are strong vocally in these roles and really lift Townshend’s writing during their moments on the show. Additionally, the female collaboration in the show comes in the relationship between Donna Mullings as Tommy’s mum Nora and her voice – Shekinah McFarlane. The two are inseparable as the character, with Mullings' performance being reflected by McFarlane’s electrifying voice particularly in the moments with her husband Captain Walker (Max Runham) whose actor musicianship really lifted his moments in the role. On the whole the integration of performer musicians was clever, with it soon becoming apparent that these performers truly are the most versatile and multitalented in the industry.
Do not miss this spectacle of new theatre at The REP, before it continues its UK tour.
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