REVIEW: FLOYD COLLINS (Wilton’s Music Hall) ★★★★★


Floyd Collins is finally back in London for the first time since 1999 and provides a lovely Off-West End treat for any fan of intelligent musical theatre, with heart and soul at its core.

This was my first time seeing the show and this production did not disappoint. The show is based on an interesting slice of history and tells the unique story of explorer Floyd Collins, who gets trapped inside a cave in 1925 Kentucky. This prompts media frenzy whilst his family make their best efforts to free him. Director Jonathan Butterfell does a fine job of bringing life to this production and blending together the ensemble, music, lights and sound to tell a very powerful story.

Put simply – the music is a dream. As a composer, Guettel holds that mystical power of lifting the music from the page and transcending it to that squishy place right in the depths of your soul. Musical Director Tom Brady did a magnificent job of blending together the ensemble cast and the musicians, with moments of actor-muso performances providing memorable moments within the show. The folk inspired opening was particularly impactful along with the use of echo that permeates the score. Guettel’s musical style is reminiscent of Sondheim, and as a trade mark, boasts incredible detail in the lyrics to create the story. The score and the book by Tina Landau focus the narrative on humanity and explores Collins’ relationships and family ties.

The complexity of the musical and emotional journey is heightened by the simple design. This production is being performed at Wilton’s Music Hall, a gorgeous historical venue, originally built in the 1690s as individual houses, providing the perfect back drop for this story. The historic venue boasts high ceilings, exposed brick and plenty of hidden alcoves. The staging is simple yet imaginative: an exposed brick upstage wall, with a series of under-lit metal platforms creating Floyd Collins’ ‘prison’. Rick Fisher’s lighting design is detailed and beautiful. Lighting changes, both subtle and striking, communicated so much of the story and there were many shared moments of suspense within the audience created by this.

The cast were a well-oiled machine and each actor contributed so much to the life of the story; it is always wonderful to see new talent sharing the stage with experienced actors. Harmonies were precise and extremely well executed. This show was very well cast with great on-stage chemistry, particularly within the Collins family. Ashley Robinson soars in the role of Floyd Collins, his physicality was precise and incredibly believable with great stamina throughout. Rebecca Trehearn is also stand out as Nellie Collins; her vocals are gorgeous, with an ethereal quality that is good for the soul!

This was a tasteful, thoughtful, very well produced piece of theatre. What the book lacks in high stakes, the score makes up for in dramatic flair. A slower Act 1 made way for a more impacting Act 2 with a strong opening from the reporters in ‘Is That Remarkable’. Due to the historical nature of the piece there is a distinct lack of women featured within the plot, however this did not deter the two female leads Rebecca Trehearn and Sarah Ingram from excelling. The impressive venue, high production values and wonderful music created a believable Southern American world with beautiful imagery. This a theatrical treat for those with a sophisticated taste for musical theatre.

Review by Lisa MacGregor
Photo: Hannah Barton

FLOYD COLLINS plays at Wilton’s Music Hall until 15 October 2016