Grace Nalty watches Musical Theatre’s newest offering at the Camden People’s Theatre
As a History of Art student, I was far from excited when I saw the summary for UCLU Musical Theatre’s latest offering. I’m coming from a pretty biased perspective as someone who dislikes the Pre-Raphaelites, but I tried to go in with an open mind. The gothic love story follows the life of Jane Burden, wife of William Morris of the Arts and Crafts movement (snore), and her love affair with Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (double snore). Written by Teresa Howard and Steven Edis, it’s a pretty cult musical that the society were brave to take on. With a cast of only six, the storyline was concise and easy to follow, and allowed a stronger engagement with the characters.
Unfortunately, the closure of the Bloomsbury Theatre has meant a somewhat of a downgrade in venues. The Camden People’s Theatre is an intimate venue with hard backed chairs and a small capacity, with the size allowing for some awkward blocking on stage for the audience members who were sat in close proximity. For those audience members, a lot of the expressions were lost and, whilst they can be easily imagined, it seemed unfair for those who paid to see the show in full. An open window in the back of the theatre expanded the small six person cast by including those in the carpark into the onstage events. The distraction was only temporary though, and was actually a pleasant distraction from the uncomfortable chairs which really fitted the Pre-Raphaelite vibes.
When faced with an awkward venue and a pretty slow storyline, there is no amount of good acting that can right it. With reoccurring stars like Heather Barnish, Ben Hiam and Miranda Evans consistently creating dramatic, tense and comic scenes in whichever show they are in, it is difficult to criticise the acting at all. If Leonardo DiCaprio was faced with this venue and plot, I don’t even think he could salvage it.
The performances were often tense and ripe with emotion between Lizzie (Barnish) and Rosetti (Charlie Smith), and made for engaging viewing that was a credit to their acting skills. The flawless vocals of the cast were amazing too and really amplified throughout the space, especially of the main protagonist, Grace Roberts. The comical character of William Morris, portrayed by (Simon Whitaker), as well as the funny duo of Mr Carter and Bessy (Hiam and Evans) added a comic edge to a serious gothic love story.
For lovers of independent, cult theatre or the Pre-Raphaelites, then this show is worth visiting. It engages well with the art context in which it is set, but as with any art-bio, I find the stereotypes overwrought and too contrived to fully immerse myself in the story. The venue may not be the most accommodating, but anything bigger for such a small production would have been swamping.
✮ ✮ ✮
Possessed, at Camden People’s Theatre from 4-6th of February.
(Photo Credit: UCLU Musical Theatre Society)