REVIEW: Big Fish The Musical (The Other Palace) ★★★★★

Like many teenagers, my morning college routine went as follows: 1) attempt to put on school tie, 2) devour breakfast cereal, 3) sit with eyes glued to Frasier. You can imagine my excitement, therefore, to witness Kelsey Grammer (Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe award-winner… you know, no big deal) live on stage, and watch his portrayal of the highly imaginative Edward Bloom, in The Other Palace’s brand new production of the Musical Big Fish.

First premiered on Broadway in 2013, Big Fish The Musical has been lovingly reworked for the London Stage with a troupe of exceptional actors and a Creative Team to be reckoned with. Adapted from the much-loved Daniel Wallace novel and Tim Burton movie, this production is directed by Nigel Harman and is scored by Tony Nominee Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family, The Wild Party), with a new book by John August (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). The story explores the tall-tales that Edward Bloom, played by the utterly brilliant and mesmerising Grammer, has spent a lifetime telling to his more practically inclined son, Will. However, as the final moments of Bloom’s life draw near, Will becomes compelled to understand the truth and delves into his father’s stories to see what he can decipher.

Director Nigel Harman masterminds bringing to life August’s gripping script, and should be commended for the production’s simplicity and sheer effectiveness. The cleverly crafted set and costume design, by Tom Rogers, creates an ever-evolving canvas for the actors to paint their various tales upon. The concept of the show involves shifting between the reality of Bloom’s hospital room and the fictional world of his effervescent imagination. These shifts are totally clear and believable as we begin to witness the stories in Bloom’s mind steer from technicolour daydreams to nightmares, all strung together with effective choreography by Liam Steel. The set is beautiful and uncomplicated, with several carefully placed doors, traps, projections and vents to provide texture and smooth transitions within each vignette of Bloom’s life, which allow the audience’s imaginations to run wild along with the characters! The fourth wall is regularly broken and we as the audience are wholeheartedly invited into some of the more madcap style scenes, allowing for a plethora of comic moments from the hilarious, utterly engaging, Forbes Masson, as Amos.

Lippa’s music is the perfect vehicle for this show, led by the accomplished musical team of Alan Berry and Alan Williams. The music both drives the story forward and allows for moments of reflection that delve into life’s big questions. A fine example being “I Don’t Need A Roof”, sung by Sandra Bloom, played by Clare Burt who is a delight opposite Grammer. The cast are first class, with Matthew Seadon-Young as Will Bloom creating an interesting and complex relationship with his father, supported by his wife Josephine, played by the wonderful Frances McNamee, helping to blur the lines between what we perceive as real and unreal.

It is a real credit to the creative team to realise a plot which transcends all generations, and creates a love story for all ages. Laura Baldwin, as Story Sandra, and Jamie Muscato, as Story Edward, had wonderful chemistry, and their contagious flair for storytelling ensured this production was ever youthful and energetic, and relevant to both younger and older theatregoers. The relatability of the story was strengthened by the huge age range within the cast. Eight-year-old Jaxon Knopf, playing Boy with enthusiasm and delight, and vivacious recent Arts Ed graduate Gemma McMeel, are among the young performers who share the stage with the seasoned Grammer; who expertly leads this talented cast with generosity and gravitas, and firmly grounds the sensational narrative in truth and sincerity… but always with a little glint of wonder.

Big Fish inspires something magical within your soul, exploring life and death, and the wonderful stories that pave the road between the two. This is exceptional storytelling that both soothes and stirs; reminding us all that whether we find ourselves in a paddling-pool or an ocean, everyone is a Big Fish with their own story to tell. This show is only around for a strictly limited run… I suggest putting on your swimmers and heading down to The Other Palace as fast as your fins will carry you!

Review by Lisa MacGregor
Photo: Tristram Kenton