"New musical: originality, skill, heart"
by May Davey for remotegoat on 06/10/12

If 'The Picture House' reflects the overall calibre of work we can expect from new entrants to the theatre profession then there are compelling reasons to be cheerful. With Musical Theatre too often reliant on tired themes and predictable characters, weighed down by production 'values' that encumber rather than serve the performances, this show is truly a breath of fresh air.

Here the story charts the fortunes of a community in the north of England at the outbreak of World War 2, where a young couple buy and run a cinema out of sheer love for the thrill and colour brought to life by going to the pictures.

Members of the company have a real and direct personal investment in the production, which they have developed from work created during their training, and this undoubtedly contributes to the show's energy. There's a genuine ensemble approach to the telling and a pleasantly light touch to design and set.

Jack Tompkins and Lily de-la-Haye give strong central performances around which the characters who populate the wartime setting move with fluidity. Memorable performances too from Minal Patel, sympathetic as Richard, and Tom Wheatley, as his antithesis Tom. Though the female characters are perhaps less precisely drawn Robyn Grange is clear and convincing as self-reliant Betty.

It's not easy to act in work that you're directing and Tania Azavedo is to be congratulated for directing in a way that allows the vitality of this production to shine. Just one or two ensemble moments may need less 'doing' and more awareness - to give us both authentic characters and smooth movement around the stage.

I enjoyed the original score, and musical direction by Nick House, with the wonderful comic number 'Soldier Rejects' particularly effective. Vocal performances were generally very strong the night I attended, and great harmonies in evidence. I do though question whether an army context is well served by a boy band style musical treatment and, in the female chorus, some uncertainty about final notes needed attention.

'The Picture House' was deservedly successful at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. However at under an hour's running time it's a slightly awkward fit as stand-alone theatre in London. Interesting to speculate whether it might be developed into something slightly more substantial without losing its freshness.

The company recognises the great opportunity presented by a run at the Lost Theatre but I know, circulating as I do in south London, that although it's an attractive, well-appointed space, the theatre has some way to go in establishing its presence.

This is a great production and ought to do very well. I urge audiences to overcome lingering resistance to south London venues: a case of getting Lost in order to find something really worthwhile.

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