Life is made up of many moments and decisions but when you look back, there is probably one moment that stands out when you had a choice to make, a choice that at the time seemed just one of many but was in fact a major turning point in life. Welcome to ‘Our House” at The Union Theatre.
It is Joe’s (Steven France) 16th birthday and he is having an awesome day. Not only has he finally got around to asking out his sweetheart, Sarah (Ailsa Davidson) – much to the disapproval of her two social climbing (but without doing anything themselves) friends, Billie (Claire Learie) and Angie (Chanice Alexander-Burnett) – but his mother Kath (Sally Samad) along with Emmo (Joseph Giacone) and Lewis (Joe Ashman) has organised a massive birthday party for him. Alone since the disappearance of Joe’s dad (Dominic Brewer), Kath has brought Joe up in their Camden house on a street built by and named after Kath’s ancestor who bequeathed her house to the family in perpetuity. As the party rolls on, Joe tries to impress Sarah by breaking into an unsold property owned by developer Mr Pressman (Rhys Owen) so they can see the view. Unfortunately, the police arrive and Joe has a decision to make, flee or give himself up? Over the course of the show, the consequences of both alternatives play out and we follow both versions of Joe along with his family and friends, during the next traumatic seven years of their lives. Along the way, both iterations meet the dodgy as hell Reecey (Jay Osborne) and come face to face with Mr Pressman himself as Joe’s stories play out and his initial decision takes him on two highly contrasting yet ultimately similar roller-coasters of a life.
So far in this review I haven’t mentioned music. Mainly because I wanted people to read about the show and get drawn into Joe’s story before I revealed that “Our House” is a, much as I hate to use the term, ‘jukebox musical’ based around the music of 80s supergroup Madness. However, rather like “Mama Mia” writer Tim Firth started with a story and inserted songs where they fitted rather than starting with a series of songs and adding some flim-flam around them. And I have to say, he has done a fantastic job. Joe’s story is compelling in itself and would make a brilliant ‘straight’ play in its own right, but the addition of superb musical numbers really adds to the power and emotion of the tale which to my mind had some really nice Shakespearean overtones but without being too preachy for the audience.
Moving on to the production, I really loved the energy and commitment of the entire cast – most of whom looked way too young to remember the original excitement of listening to Madness tracks and director Michael Burgen used the various entrances and exits of the Union’s auditorium to great effect moving people around both location and time – in two different stories. If I am being a little picky, I did think some of the dance numbers, choreographed beautifully by William Whelton, seemed to be aimed more at a larger west-end venue than a fringe theatre – a transfer I really hope happens at the end of this run.
I have to say that Steven France in the role of Joe was an absolute legend. Playing both good and bad Joe, often with the fastest costume changes known to man, he made both versions ultimately believable and you couldn’t help hoping that things would work out for him/them. The rest of the cast were equally as good and really seemed to be enjoying themselves all the way through. A shout out to Dominic Brewer and Sally Samad who, as Joe’s parents had a lovely opening scene, involving Clint Eastwood, which really set the show off perfectly. The two characters were pivotal to both stories all the way through and played their respective parts beautifully.
Ultimately “Our House” is so much more than a standard juke box musical. It is a wonderful fusion of a fantastic story and awesome music from one of the best bands of the eighties and it would be complete Madness (sorry, had to be done) not to go see it as soon as possible.
Review by Terry Eastham
Directed by Michael Burgen
Choreography by William Whelton
Musical Direction by Richard Baker
Produced by Sasha Regan
The story follows Camden lad, Joe Casey who, on the night of his 16th birthday, makes a decision that will change his life. Trying to impress Sarah, the girl of his dreams, Joe breaks into a building development overlooking his home on Casey Street. But things take a turn for the worse as the police turn up. Joe’s life splits into two; the Good Joe who stays and gives himself up and Bad Joe who flees and leaves Sarah to run from the police.
‘Our House’ follows the two paths that Joe’s life could take after that fateful night; one path means a criminal record and social exclusion, while the other will lose him the girl that he loves. Over a period of seven years and two alternative lives, Joe deals with the consequences of that night. Whilst one Joe fights to keep Sarah, the other is marrying her in a glitzy Vegas wedding and, ultimately, while Good Joe fights to save his house on Casey Street, Bad Joe is determined to demolish it with tragic consequences. All this is watched over by Joe’s deceased father, who pulls the two stories together.
The cast includes:
Steven France (‘Eastenders’) as Joe Casey
Ailsa Davidson as Sarah
Dominic Brewer (‘Twelfth Night’, ‘Richard III’, West End & Broadway) as Joe’s Dad
Sally Samad as Kath Casey
Joseph Giacone (‘Fame’, UK Tour) as Emmo
Joe Ashman as Lewis
Claire Learie as Billie
Chanice Alexander-Burnett as Angie
Rhys Owen as Mr. Pressman
Jay Osborne as Reecey
Ensemble includes: Joanna Bird, Alice Baker, Rachel Capp, Lauren Dinse, Reece Kerridge, Paul Flannigan and Zachary Worrall.
19th August – 12th September 2015
Tuesday – Saturday at 7.30pm
Saturday/Sunday at 2.30pm
£20 / Concessions £17
Box Office: 020 7261 9876
Online Bookings: www.ticketsource.co.uk/uniontheatre (fees apply)
The Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, London SE1 0LX
www.uniontheatre.biz Twitter: @theuniontheatre
Saturday 22nd August 2015