I am reminded of a man from Louisiana, one of those chatty tourists to London I come across during my many pre-theatre meals in cafes and restaurants, who once told me his grandparents were so poor, they didn’t even pronounce the word poor as ‘poor’ but as ‘po’, such was their poverty that they even had to be economical with letters. Romford Rose is promoted in a similar fashion by the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, claiming to be “full of line-dancin’, fine-dancin’, sparklin’ wine-dancin’ original tunes”, and while it isn’t exactly ‘poor theatre’, it’s not exactly “chock full” (borrowing from the theatre’s own promotional flyer again) with set and props either.
I did wonder whether this would be more of a gig than a musical at first glance, with an on stage band taking up a substantial portion of space. Even before going into the auditorium, the theatre’s bar had ‘prosecco rose’ on special offer, no doubt inspired by the show’s title – the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch likes doing this sort of thing. And as the band took to the stage, they certainly looked the part, with the cowboy hats, chequered shirts and denim jeans. Only partly through their visibility did it become impossible not to appreciate their efforts. It’s difficult to work out whether they are actor-musicians or musician-actors, but they are such an integral part of this production and play (pun acknowledged) so many minor characters between them that they are, in effect, both band and ensemble.
There is little spoken word in this musical – don’t let that put you off. There’s considerable variation in mood and tempo in the various songs that puts across the appropriate emotion well. There’s even, rightly or wrongly in something billed as a ‘country musical’, one or two rock tunes. But most country numbers tell a story, and many of the numbers here are no exception. Plot-heavy, there’s sufficient song-and- dance, but don’t expect the sort of ultra-energetic extended barn dance movements of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I am no expert on line dancing, or even “line-dancin’”, by any stretch of the imagination, but the choreography, at least at face value, appeared to me to be all in good order.
Dad (Sam Pay) is probably more aptly called Angry Dad, though quite why he feels it appropriate to speak to practically everyone in such an abrasive manner is never properly explained. Pay comes across as a man relishing his role, building on a previous Queen’s role as the main antagonist in their 2015/16 panto – Romford Rose, like myself, couldn’t completely resist a not-very- subtle reference to it. Rose (Sarah Day), the Rose in ‘Romford Rose’, is highly convincing as a frustrated daughter and disenfranchised young person.
The musical loses its way a little in the second half, using a scene that happens to be in A&E as a vehicle to indulge in politics, expressing solidarity and support for the junior doctors on NHS contracts. While a crowd-pleaser, it was somewhat out of place here, and added little to the developing storyline. Elsewhere, Rose randomly shouts, “Get lost, Boris!” – and as there isn’t a character in the show with that name, I can only conclude it was a reference to Boris Johnson, though quite what his involvement, if any, is with the junior doctors’ dispute was unclear. Thinking about it, the musical actually loses its way quite a lot at this point.
Still, with only the occasional expletive used, it’s good to see that a new show can be written with an ample enough vocabulary; not everything has to be effing this and effing that. At various points the music becomes both hummable and haunting. Now, there aren’t many country musicals out there – so if you’re up for something different, this is worth considering. A charming and likeable piece of musical theatre with equally strong music and plot.
Review by Chris Omaweng
A GIRL’S GOTTA DO WHAT A GIRL’S GOTTA DO
This Summer, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch presents the celebrated playwright Christopher Bond’s ROMFORD ROSE, a sparkling yet heartfelt new musical, brimming with foot-stomping, original country melodies by Jo Collins and featuring some of the UK’s most talented musicians performing on a wonderful selection of instruments from the mandolin and banjo to the mighty pedal steel.
Rose is 18 today, it’s party time in Romford… And it sure looks like that soldier boy Jack is tryin’ to tame this Romford Rose. Well, her Daddy don’t like it, her Mama’s hittin’ the hooch… and it’s only Miss Dolly Parton who seems to understand.
So how ‘bout it Rose – you ever gonna make your own music and do what you want?
Christopher Bond, who also directs, is the prolific and fantastically inventive writer of many hits at the Queen’s and around the world, including Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street , which was the inspiration for and formed the basis of the Stephen Sondheim musical of the same name, and Alice on the Underground, an imaginative modern take on the Lewis Carroll classics.
The Romford Rose stars Nicky Croydon, Sarah Day and Queen’s regulars Wade Lewin and Sam Pay, whose wonderfully diverse credits include plenty of stage and screen work – from the West End’s Lion King and Gary Barlow’s Calendar Girls to the BBC’s Brush Strokes and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
The Romford Rose band, features the Country’s most respected instrumentalists: Jo Collins MBE, also musical director, has written songs recorded by Sir Cliff Richard and Elaine Page; BJ Cole is regarded as one of the world’s greatest pedal steel guitarists, who has worked with living legends such as Elton John, Sting and R.E.M.; Iain Whitmore, formerly a member of the 1970s rock band Starry Eyed and Laughing; and Jennifer Douglas, Liz Kitchen and Howard James Martin, whose impressive music credits include a wide variety of musicals across the UK including the upcoming Sister Act UK tour as well as work with the Liverpool Philharmonic, Opera North, Ballet Rambert and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Design is by Ellen Cairns, lighting design by Douglas Kuhrt, sound design by Andy Smart and Rachel Yates is choreographer and assistant director.
May 27th to June 18th 2016
Written and directed by Christopher Bond
Music composed and directed by Jo Collins
The Queen’s Theatre, Billet Lane, Hornchurch, RM11 1QT