Last night I had the pleasure of visiting the Albert Hall to watch Coram Boy, the latest production from the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company. Based on Jamilia Gavin’s 2000 book of the same name, its stage reworking is thanks to Helen Edmundson, who previously adapted Small Island for the theatre.
Both book and stage production feature the work of Thomas Coram who, in 1739, established The Founding Hospital for unwanted and orphaned children. Reflecting on some of the social inequalities of the time, Coram Boy addresses the abused poor, mistreated children and slavery, touching on emotive subjects such as death, bullying, extortion and the breakdown of traditional family structures. The themes relevant to a modern audience; particularly in addressing the perception that the Arts are not an area worth pursuing, people being on the breadline and the consequences of families being separated.
The Albert Hall’s Binns Organ takes centre stage during the production, as the play opens with cast members entering the hall from four corners, with their singing accompanied by John Keys playing the organ. The result is very atmospheric, perfectly setting the scene for the rest of the play. The singing is pitch-perfect throughout, and the variety and range of tones were testament to the level of rehearsal and commitment evidently undertaken before this excellent production.
The high level of professionalism was apparent throughout, with the marrying of action with great music and incredible talent, highlighted by several excellent solos, most notably Rachel Burbridge (Young Thomas), Harry Pavelou (Alexander) and Moyege Oke (Melissa Milcote). At haunting event at the end of the opening scene was perfectly accompanied by the choir and music to create a chilling atmosphere. It was captivating, and I almost didn’t want the interval to happen. I just wanted to find out what was going to happen next.
The action wasn’t restricted to the extended centre stage, but actors also found there way into the seating areas. During one scene set during ball, dancers filled the stage and floor areas, and the choir sang from the back of the hall to the choir stand at the front. Every inch of the room was used to its full advantage, bringing an entirely different dimension to the performance. Integrating elements of dance, music – including snippets of Handel’s Messiah - and comedy were an innovative way to tackle an array of difficult subjects.
Several scenes, including an emotive speech from Sir William Ashbrook (Kevin Brown), were packed full of emotion, and character development felt authentic and earned. Other scenes made for painful watching (in a good way!), and caused me to hold my breath, wondering what was going to happen next.
By the time Coram Boy reached it’s emotive crescendo, many fellow audience members were left wiping tears away, confirming the sentiment that had been building in my mind through the production: this was one of, if not the best play I had ever seen.
Coram Boy is runnng until Saturday 10 August. For more information and tickets, visit the Nottingham Playhouse website