The Union Theatre is a small fringe theatre with very intimate spacing that is situated in the heart of Southwark. The theatre itself has reputation for staging high-quality musicals in its tiny studio space, examples such as a very successful run of Gilbert and Sullivan operetta season, Bare, The Dreaming and its latest success, Closer To Heaven. In spite of all this last year it petitioned to keep their space as it has been threatened with closure and are soon to be moving to a purpose built facility still in the areas of South London.
Duncan Wood, an original story by William Horwood is a quest into the nature of love and greed, oppression and freedom, courage and corruption – and finally into the nature of grace and the power of the spirit. It is a moving love story of Bracken and Rebecca and the trials they must face and overcome to be as one. Despite their differences, the moles of Duncton Wood are members of the same (once-proud) system but all are now tyrannised by Mandrake. Only in the shadow of the Stone, the inspiring half-forgotten symbol of a better past, can the strength to resist be found and led by Bracken.
The direction by Michael Strassen, for the size of the space, was executed very well. Upon first arrival in the space at The Union, due to the layout of the chairs, the use of the set and position of the band, you notice the cast have lost a lot of stage space. However, in typical Union style, they utilised the diagonals in the space giving the illusion that it’s bigger than it actually is. Strassen cleverly made use of the ‘offstage areas’ behind the set in which the performers use to travel around the space using different entrances and exits as the echoing around the mole holes. At the beginning of the show, it felt as if we had jumped into something part way through, and that made the details of the story confusing at times.
Lyricist and composer, Mark Corroll, created such a vast array of eloquently written songs with such complimentary lyrics. The songs ranged from powerful plot developing songs such as ‘Stillness’ sung by James Sinclair playing Stonecrop, to gorgeous duets, ‘Moonshine’, sung by Amelia-Rose Morgan and Oli Reynolds playing Rebecca and Cairn and gloriously full ensemble numbers such as ‘Hulver’s Dream’ with brilliant harmonies.
The cast themselves were very talented, the lead couple (Josh Little and Amelia-Rose Morgan) had such great chemistry between them, making their love after the search for each other so real (as well as both of them having very brilliant voices). The supporting roles of Cairn and Stonecrop were similarly good in their acting, conveying a believable brotherhood relationship. All the ensemble members of the cast, although some only having a small amount of stage time, contributed heavily to the sense of colony and camaraderie.
Standout members of the cast are Josh Little for having a strong voice as well as radiating leading man qualities, Anthony Cable for encapsulating what it is to be the evil character in the show and Amelia-Rose Morgan for her beautifully engaging acting in the more distressing scenes. Standout ensemble members were Sinead O Callaghan for her strong belt and heart wrenching delivery after losing a child, as well as Myles Hart for his constant level of conviction, commitment to character and excellent physicality throughout the show.
Reviewed by Thomas Yates
Photo by Darren Bell
Duncan Wood is playing at the Union Theatre until 20 June 2015. Click here for more information and to book tickets