Sunday, 6 May 2018

REVIEW: Moonfleet at Salisbury Playhouse

Gareth Machin, one of the executive directors of the Salisbury Playhouse, has boldly written the book and lyrics and directed a new musical version of the classic novel of Moonfleet, the book written in 1898 by J Meade Faulkner. Set on the Dorset coast in the 18th century it is a dramatic tale of pirates, smugglers and a young boy John Trenchard who narrates the original book. New musicals present a real challenge to successfully develop but in this short run in Salisbury, Machin has demonstrated the potential of this story to create an engaging, dark, musical with a light operatic feel with music written by Russell Hepplewhite.

The atmospheric setting designed by Tom Rogers very effectively creates the multiple locations in which the story unfolds and slickly moves from the Why not Inn, to the crypt, to the local beaches, to Carisbrooke Castle and to Holland. He cleverly uses stage traps, and high levels balconies to simply provide an ever changing setting. The whole effect is enhanced by Tim Lutkin's wonderful lighting design which evokes candle light and moon light and tightly defines the various acting spaces.Together they create a strong period feel and perfect backdrop to the action. It also allows Ashley Mercer as Blackbeard the pirate, to quietly drift into vision through the darkness and shadows as a mystical brooding observer and guide to the drama with a powerful deep voice.

John Trenchard the young hero is played with youthful charm by Ryan Heenan ; a boy seeking an adventure which leads him from his god fearing aunt into dangerous encounters with crooks and murderers. He is accompanied on this journey by the inn keeper of the Why not inn, Isabelle Block (a gender rebalancing from the book where the character is a man called Elzevir) played by Rebecca Lock. They make an odd couple but we feel their shared loss of family members which creates a bond to support them in the adventure and are shocked by the brutal branding scene.

Simon Butteriss has great fun in his three roles of Reverend Glennie, the local vicar,The Bailiff at the auction of the Why not Inn and then with a whitened face as the double dealing jeweller Aldobrand. Indeed his song as the later and in the subsequent court scene is one of the musical highlights of the show. Earl Carpenter as first Maskew, the local magistrate and then Turnkey, the castle warden, provides the dramatic twists that propel Trenchard on to Holland and his fate.

There is good vocal support from the rest of the ensemble cast and a small four
piece band under the musical direction of Michael Hallam creates a rich delightful soundtrack. Kate Flatt as movement director ensures that all of the ten actors are careful choreographed in each scene and scene change. 

Overall the musical lacks a true show stopper number, would benefit from a little more light and shade and enhancements to the scenes of hard Labour and transportation by ship which were the least convincing. However the Salisbury production team have again produced an enjoyable new show which remains largely true to the original novel and certainly has the potential for a life beyond Salisbury .

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: D in stalls | Price of Ticket: £20
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