It is 1908 in the town of Horston Barrow and Gentlemen Crooks Percival Goldsmith and Bevan Bawden are planning their annual "May Day" vigilante pursuit - they bring about the downfall of 'deserving' villagers. However, one of their former 'victims' the Night Watchman, Blinker, is vengefully determined to put an end to their misdemeanours once and for all.
The Mission Theatre lends itself well to Dan Lashbrook and Rob Pratt's blend of Oscar Wilde-cum-Gilbert & Sullivan-meets The Hired Man, and Director Petra Schofield makes excellent use of the intimate space through projections and clever staging.
The performances are outstanding - Robin Fackrell as Percy sings (almost non stop) with a velvety richness to his tone, and Duncan Mitchell as Bevan charismatically commands the stage. Jason LeMoir makes a menacing music hall villain (watch out for that smile beneath the moustache), and Zoe Manifold and Sarah Phillips were also in fine voice as the sweethearts of the piece. Richard Pugh as Constable Moffat, for me, stole every one of his scenes with superb comic timing, expression and presence, and Val Richards as Agness Hackett was wonderful as the Aunt you loved to hate...whose cantankerous exterior hides a youthful heart (I can see why this lady has won awards for her performances).
There is absolutely no doubt what an incredible achievement it is to develop, write, compose and produce an original full length show, and "The Decent Rogues" is to be praised for its accomplishment. However, an original musical poses many difficulties - and maybe the hardest is the wish to include so many inspirations - perhaps at the expense of consistency. One cannot deny the amount of work that has gone into the piece, and there were many fantastic numbers: my favourites were the hat tips to "G&S" of "The Cross Gun March" (performed beautifully by three lovely little maids), and "Copper's Song"; as well as the Lionel Bart/Jerry Bock styled "Dig" (performed with gusto by Jason Crook and Rich Newman); and the truly haunting "Thee, I'll Never Forget". I also enjoyed the juxtaposition of the lilting melody for "Knife in your Back" with the ruthlessness of the lyrics - and in this case would have also liked to have seen this clash taken even further, perhaps through the use of grotesque masks and Cecchetti or contemporary influenced dance? While there were many clever lyrics, and pretty refrains throughout I felt that there needed to be a clearer decision on whether the piece wanted to command farce and frivolity, with pathos...or melancholy and sentiment, with light relief...
Nevertheless the audience response was undeniably appreciative, and the production is set to transfer to London. There is definitely a space for new work and this is certainly a celebration of initiative, drive and creativity rather than the production line cash cow which turns popular films into musicals to varying degrees of success. Without doubt "The Decent Rogues" has heaps of potential and I wish its composers, company and the production every success.
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