Everyone loves a good disaster. For example, how many people watch Formula 1 because they like watching 22 rich men drive around in circles and how many watch in the hope of seeing a pile-up? So, humans are attracted to tragedy and these days, thanks to social media, it is easy to alert people when something is happening, causing a massive crowd to turn up and gawp. However, back in 1925 things were different. People relied on newspapers and that newfangled radio to find out what was occurring in the world – and when tragedy struck, they flocked to see. This is the central story behind Tina Landau and Adam Guettel’s Floyd Collins back in London for a limited run at Wilton’s Music Hall.
The tragic hero is one Floyd Collins (Ashley Robinson) a caver who is looking for the perfect cave which he plans to make lots of money showing the public around. Floyd is a happy-go-lucky chap with an endearing smile and a friendly way about him that means he is loved by all. So, one day when he disappears it doesn’t take long for his God-fearing father Lee (Jack Chissick) to round up the family – stepmother Miss Jane (Sarah Ingram), Brother Homer (Samuel Thomas) and sister Nellie (Rebecca Trehearn) – and various friends to find him. Eventually, they do find him trapped in an extremely narrow passage with his foot wedged under a rock – meaning he cannot get out. The passage is so narrow that only local cub reporter ‘Skeets’ Miller (Daniel Booroff) can get to reach Floyd and thus give Miller the scoop of his young life. As Floyd continues to hold out, stuck in the dark passage, Skeet’s reports of the young man’s plight spread throughout the country creating an avalanche of interest that brings reporters and gawkers rushing to the scene of the potential tragedy. As the carnival grows and Floyd’s fate hangs in the balance, will the plans of rescue leader Henry St. George Tucker Carmichael (Ian Burfield) be enough to get him out?
I often wonder how playwrights and composers think of things to write about. And I have to say that greater imaginations than mine were at work when Tina Landau and Adam Guettel looked at the true story of the life and death of Floyd Collins and thought “we could make a musical out of this”. However, they did and Floyd Collins was the result. Does the tale of a man trapped in a cave work as a musical theatre piece? I would have to say yes and no to that. My major problem with the show is that it feels way too long. After the initial opening, Floyd basically sings three songs (‘The Call’, ‘It Moves’ & ‘Time to Go’) one after another and while setting the scene, using one person to sing three songs consecutively did seem to take a heck of a long time. Having said that, Ashley Robinson was amazing as Floyd. His personality and really endearing smile meant that the audience were on his side from the get-go. Being on stage for 100% of the performance, trapped in his little tunnel – courtesy of the superbly designed multilevel scaffold set – Ashley made sure everyone knew Floyd’s predicament without ever distracting the audience’s attention from whatever else was happening in the ‘outside’ world. Musically, I thought the second act was stronger than the first with ‘The Dream’ and ‘How Glory Goes’ in particular really standing out as well written and performed numbers.
Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, the majority of the characters didn’t feel that well defined. For example, Floyd’s father and stepmother seemed to just pop onto the stage every so often simply to wring their hands in despair as to what was happening to the boy. There were exceptions, particularly Homer and Nellie, both brought brilliantly to life by Samuel Thomas and Rebecca Trehearn respectively. Both characters were extremely interesting and I wanted to know more about them. Specifically what had caused Nellie to be in an asylum and what the heck happened to Homer to change his personality so much from the boy who sang the end of act one duet ‘Riddle Song’ with Floyd to the person he became in Act II.
In many respects, I feel bad being so negative about Floyd Collins. Director Jonathan Butterell, MD Tom Brady, all the technical team and the cast provide a fantastic interpretation of the story. The problem is that for me at least, the story wasn’t up to the mark and I felt everyone involved deserved a better story to tell. The really good thing I can say about the writing is that it spurred me on to investigate the real story – which is actually quite fascinating.
Review by Terry Eastham
It’s 1925 in Kentucky and fearless cave explorer Floyd Collins dreams of finding fame and fortune deep underground. When he becomes trapped, it’s a race against time for his family and friends as they fight to set him free. The media circus above ground turns their extraordinary rescue effort into a national sensation. Floyd’s determination will inspire the whole community…
Journey to Floyd’s Sand Cave in this all-new evocative production of Adam Guettel and Tina Landau’s award-winning musical. Based on a true story, the tale of Floyd Collins is told in the style of an open, honest folk-opera and illustrated by a hauntingly beautiful score that evokes a heady, Bourbon-laced blend of Bluegrass, Copland and Stravinski with a dash of Gershwin. Plunge into another world and another time with this exceptional musical, brought to life within the hallowed walls and atmosphere of Wilton’s.
♫ The Sand Cave Crickets will be performing in the cocktail bar every night before the show and in the interval.
Book by Tina Landau
Music & Lyrics by Adam Guettel
Additional Lyrics by Tina Landau
Directed by Jonathan Butterell.
Musical Direction by Tom Brady
Costume Design by Lee Newby
Lighting Design by Rick Fisher
Sound Design by Tony Gayle
Presented by special arrangement with R&H Theatricals Europe in association with Wilton’s Music Hall
Floyd Collins The Musical
Wilton’s Music Hall, Graces Alley, London E1 8JB
22nd September to 15th October 2016