This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com
It’s time to pop Champagne corks. Here we have a brand new British musical that does not simply recycle old hits and is not adapted from a film, a play or a novel. Michael Webborn and Daniel Finn conceived and developed this show as a totally original piece of musical theatre, the story, words and music being woven together from the very start in a process which now looks set to pay them handsome dividends. The show is a fairy story with hints of Pinocchio (maybe even Frankenstein in its darker moments). Abraham (Lawrence Carmichael), the clockmaker in the small Irish town of Spindlewood, grief-stricken at the loss of his only daughter, makes a clockwork replacement for her, Constance, who takes human form but needs to be wound up to become active. Abraham holds her key. Of course, this all requires considerable suspension of disbelief, but didn’t Wicked? The songs work perfectly in harmony with the book to propel the story. Webborn and Finn’s lush, melodic music has touches of Irish folk and, if influences of previous shows can sometimes be detected, they are only the best shows. Constance is a massive starring role and it gets a massive starring performance from Canadian actor/singer Jennifer Harding. Her quizzical eyes and beaming smile convey astonishment and joy at the world outside her maker’s home, her mechanical movements becoming progressively more human as she grows in confidence. The town’s dressmaker (Jo Wickham) turns into Constance’s adversary and the story’s villain, but her son, Will (an endearing performance by Alan McHale) befriends the girl, leading to a tentative romance. Robert McWhir’s production, choreographed by Robbie O’Reilly, is mysterious, enchanting and, at times, dazzling. A company of 20 fills this small stage as the townsfolk of Spindlewood celebrate New Year, Market Day, a wedding, etc. The chorus singing and dancing is marvellous to hear and behold. David Shields’ set designs of gold-painted pillars and clocks enhance the timeless, magical feel, with moveable blocks quickly adapting from, say, a library to the town’s bridge. As with all good fairy tales, this is also a morality tale and the show has darker themes which come to the fore in Act II, changes in tone always being driven by the music. Abraham can now be seen as a possessive and manipulative father, Constance becomes a social outcast and the people of Spindlewood, earlier a joyful throng, turn into an unruly mob in a powerful transformation scene. Drawing parallels with racism, the story asks what is the difference between clockwork and bones, or between oil and blood. The serious undercurrents give the show depth and texture. British musicals have had a rough time in the last couple of years. Producers who have dropped new works straight onto West End stages, expecting them to make a running start, may want to ponder the advantages of opening in a small venue such as the Landor, thereby giving a show time to settle, breathe and find its audience. The Clockmaker’s Daughter could be adapted easily for a bigger stage, but it is here for just five weeks, an opportunity to get in on the birth of something very special.
Performance date: 1 June 2015
Photo: Poppy Carter