Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre lights up Metropolis

Sunday 15th October 2017

Metropolis is one of those musicals that is often referred to as a ‘flop’.  Having seen it ourselves, we are not sure that is really fair, considering it had a six months run and boasted a fantastic leading performance from Judy Kuhn, but we suspect the show might have been a victim of excessive production values which weren’t recouped.

And what better way to test that hypothesis that to put it on at Ye Olde Rose and Crown, a venue so tiny that the whole of it is smaller than just the set of the West End show.  Our expectations were high – this is the home of All Star Productions whose ambitions are limitless, and the director of this show, Tim McArthur, is a kind of Dr Frankenstein of the theatrical flop.  If he couldn’t breathe new life into it, we surmised, nobody can.

The plot doesn’t stand a lot of scrutiny, but the setting of the dystopian city is an enduring metaphor for injustice and slavery, as the workers at the bottom of the pile toil away at ‘machines’ to provide power for the elites above.  John Freeman, the founder and ruler of the only city left on Earth, is determined to keep his son and heir, Steven, ignorant about the terrible conditions of the workers.  Unfortunately for him, Steven falls in love with worker Maria when she comes up to upper levels of the city, strictly forbidden, and he follows her down below.  Now that his eyes are open, it is the beginning of the end for the tyrannical rule of his father.

It is the music which lifts the story by providing an emotional landscape.  Joe Brooks’ score is full of memorable tunes and motifs and beautiful ensemble pieces, interweaving the power and energy of the worker’s chorus with the soaring melodies of Maria and Steven.

The production stands or falls by the ability of the cast to transport us to another world, something they do resoundingly from the first notes to the final chorus.  Musical Director Aaron Clingham has had multiple ‘Offie’ nominations for his fantastic work with All Star Productions, and it would be a travesty if his work is not recognised this year.  The ensemble cast, all of whom take on multiple roles, blend together perfectly and generate a level of energy that probably could power a city, with stand-out solos from Tom Blackmore, Mark Mackinnon and Kitty Whitelaw.

Producer Andrew Yon has also found some exceptional lead performers.  The character of Maria is an intriguing one.  Although literally objectified and turned into a robot, she is the protagonist that drives the story forward.  Only afterwards did we discover that Thea Von Harbou, who subsequently became Fritz Lang’s wife, wrote the original story.  This may explain why Maria occupies the space usually taken by a man.  Maria requires an actress who can portray strength of character combined with an almost childlike innocence, something with Miiya Alexandra brings to the role in spades.  She has a radiant quality and a purity of voice which soars above the mayhem of the city, combined with a commanding stillness.  As Steven, Rob Herron provides the emotional centre of the story, taking us on a journey of love and the slow realisation that his life is going to be very different from what was planned out for him.  He delivers the role to perfection with a nuanced and powerful voice.  Gareth James has the unenviable task of stepping into the shoes of Brian Blessed as John Freeman. And how do you follow Brian Blessed? You follow another path.  James brings a quiet menace to the role which is highly effective.

All star productions and Tim McArthur have surpassed themselves with this production. We booked our tickets for a return visit as soon as we got home.

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