Can a computer create a hit musical? Scientists have set out to answer this question by creating Beyond The Fence which has just opened at the Arts Theatre in London’s West End. If you look at all the big hit musicals against one another you start to see patterns form and this information has been turned into a musical. The Sky Arts documentary which aired this week explained how a hit show needs a strong female lead, a death, to be based on real life events, have varied styles of music and be set in the 1980’s.
Based on the real life events of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp in the early 1980’s, we meet a group of women who have come together to protest against the use of nuclear weapons at a Royal Air Force base in Berkshire. As the press coverage starts to die down, the women think up new ways to get their voice heard and get themselves into some sticky situations.
Musically there are some great toe-tapping numbers and an array of different musical styles to satisfy all tastes.
The show does have its flaws. The climatic ending to the first half seems to have been completely forgotten about by the start of act 2 and so we never really find out what happened. The set design has lovely elements to it with protest posters all around but the use of a rotating fence could maybe have been better designed.
The cast are what makes this show phenomenal. Each character has their own story and moment to shine in the show. Christine Allado provides the best vocals as Girlie along with Llio Millward as Ceridwen. Laura Jane Mathewson gives us comedy and a great song (performed on roller-skates) about never being thin enough for ballet but getting the same feeling from roller-skating. CJ Johnson is sublime as the ‘strong female lead’ in the show who has escaped an abusive relationship and wants to show her daughter how strong women can be. Ako Mitchell’s acting is superb as Jim Meadow (although his vocals were less impressive) and Annie Wensak held the characters together as the mother figure Margie who’s children have left home and the peace camp is there only place she feels she can still be of any use.
Beyond The Fence is extremely moving and emotional and had the audience in its grasp the whole way through, willing these women to survive and win the cause they are fighting. With some tweaking it could quite possibly be one of the most important pieces of theatre to come out of London this year.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Robert Workman