JOYCE MCMILLAN on OUR HOUSE at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman, 18.10.13.
3 stars ***
THERE’S SOMETHING poignant and fascinating about watching the Madness tribute musical Our House, in Edinburgh until Saturday, in a week when the headlines have been full of the implications of yet another London property boom, with soaring house prices.
First seen in London in 2003, and set in Camden Town between the 1980’s and today, Tim Firth’s clever script weaves a terrific playlist of Madness songs – Baggy Trousers, My Girl’s Mad At Me, It Must Be Love, and the all-dancing title song – into the story of a boy called Joe, whose story divides in two at a crossroads moment in his teens, and whose double life offers up a fascinating reflection on ideas of ethics, success and happiness in post-1970’s Britain. Watched over by the anxious ghost of his dead Dad, unethical Joe takes to crime, and becomes a big-shot property developer, instrumental in the demolition and redevelopment of the street where he grew up – a street his grandfather built with his own hands. Nice Joe, on the other hand, ends up in prison, and only finds happiness in the show’s final reel. This is complex stuff, the twin narratives carrying echoes of Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers; and it perfectly complements the streetwise London-working-class mood of the music.
This latest touring production, from the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich, is a lively, vivid show, with an 18-strong cast at least half of whom double as musicians, an evocative set, and some fine sax-playing. Overall, though, the performances seem a little underpowered for the material, with some dialogue and song lyrics gabbled and lost, amid a storm of poor sound quality. The energy is terrific, the politics fascinating, the songs superb; but the show as a whole fails to make the most of the ingredients in hand, and ends up looking and sounding slightly messy, and a little bit lost.