Do you worry what other people think about you? Most of us when confronted with that question would deny that we do but secretly, we probably do think about how others view us. In normal life this isn’t too much of a problem but, if you are in a position of authority – however small – the issue of others perception of you becomes far more important in your life. This then is the central concept of The Stationmaster the headline show in Aria Entertainment’s ‘From Page to Stage’ season of new musicals currently being showcased at the Tristan Bates Theatre.
It is 1958 and in the small Lake District town of Kirby, stationmaster Thomas (Nigel Richards) is greeting the day and getting ready for the first train of the morning to come rumbling into his station. Thomas loves every aspect of his work, and this love is reflected back at him by the people of the town who consider him a pillar of the local community. Even the fact that his wife Catherine (Jessica Sherman) is – in the minds of the locals – rather peculiar to say the least does not diminish their respect for Thomas. The self-proclaimed head of the community and guardian of its morals, Mrs Deakin (Annie Wensak) has even invited Thomas to be the guest judge at the town fete where he will have the unenviable task of deciding which of the competing Victoria sponge cakes is the best in the town. So, everything in Thomas’ life is pretty rosy. His station is immaculate, his passengers love him and the trains passing through do so on time and in complete safety.
Not everyone in the town is quite so lucky as Thomas though. Anna (Emily Bull), the young, attractive daughter of local publican Martin (Matt Harrop) is really disenchanted with her life, looking after an elderly and partially disabled father in a small town pub with only Mrs Deakin’s lovestruck grandson Davey (Richard Brindley) as a potential match for her. Then one fateful morning, Anna takes a walk to the station and starts a conversation with Thomas that will profoundly affect not only their own lives but the life of every person in the town and far beyond.
Inspired by Horvath’s Judgment Day, translated by Christopher Hampton, The Stationmaster is a wonderful new musical full of all those elements that will get people shelling out their money to see it. Susannah Pearse’s Book combined with Tim Connor’s Music and Lyrics deliver a show that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. From the two opening numbers – which firmly established Thomas’ feelings for his life and the townsfolk’s feelings for him – the story moved at a lively pace and never seemed to take the easy road when coming to a potential plot junction. There were a few times when I fully expected the narrative to go a certain way and in fact it went off in entirely the opposite direction, completely surprising me. Indeed at one point I was heard to mutter OMG under my breath as certain events unfolded.
The cast were really great in their respective roles – some playing multiple characters which a couple of times had me slightly confused – and there were some really wonderful voices to be heard. In fact I have to say it was great from where I sat on the front row to hear everyone’s natural voice as opposed to over a speaker. Nigel Richards was wonderful in the role of Thomas, a man who starts off as the ultimate ‘good companion’ amazingly happy and cheerful – Nigel really does have a lovely smile – but by the end left this member of the audience really unsure about my feelings towards him. Jessica Sherman as Thomas’ wife Catherine was equally as brilliant, I felt by the end that Catherine was probably the character I knew most about even being able to understand her motivation for doing some of the things she did. This was especially true in the really poignant closing scene where the true nature of Thomas and Catherine’s relationship was beautifully played out. Emily Bull brought a lovely spirit to Anna – a girl trapped by family – and had some wonderful opportunities to show Anna’s frustration with her current life which she hid beautifully from her father. Two more characters I would like to single out here. Annie Wensak who played Mrs Deakin beautifully. It would be easy to overplay the ‘leader’ of the town but Annie brought her to life as a wonderful cross between the Dowager Duchess from Downton Abbey and Linda Snell from The Archers that was perfect and never slipped into easy caricature. And finally, Martin who, whilst not being a major character, almost steals the show in the second half with a solo number that, due to the realism of Matt Harrop’s performance, had me choking back a tear.
Director Bronagh Lagan moves her cast around better than the ‘Fat Controller’ in the ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ books and makes really effective use of the acting space available to her. The only minor criticism I have is to do with smoke. It can be very effective but, in a small space like this, the noise of the machine is really distracting and the smoke lingers too long so sometimes is around in scenes where it shouldn’t be.
So, you may have guessed, I really enjoyed The Stationmaster, which I think is an excellent addition to the musical theatre repertoire available to be performed by anyone from a small amateur company up to a lavish West End spectacle. A really well-written and thought out story, with excellent direction that gets the audience thinking. It is delivered by a great cast. The Stationmaster definitely deserves its place as the headline show for the ‘Page to Stage’ season.
Review by Terry Eastham
The Stationmaster is a brand new British musical with Music and Lyrics by Tim Connor and Book by Susannah Pearse. Inspired by Horvath’s Judgment Day, translated by Christopher Hampton
It’s 1958 and we’re in the town of Kirby in the Lake District. Railway stationmaster Thomas Price is the pillar of the local community. Until a young woman arrives on the platform and distracts him from his duties. Thomas forgets to set a crucial signal and a tragic train crash occurs. The guilty pair decide to cover up their mistake. But as ghosts start to appear to them in the town, things begin to unravel…
Cast: Nigel Richards, Jessica Sherman, Emily Bull, Jon Osbaldeston, David Francis, Annie Wensak, Annette Yeo, Matt Harrop, Richard Brindley
Creatives: Director: Bronagh Lagan. Musical Director: Caroline Humphris. Designer: Nik Corrall. Choreographer: Iona Holland.
Tuesday 3 – Sunday 15 November
Tuesday – Friday at 7.30pm, Saturday at 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Sunday at 2.30pm
Tristan Bates Theatre
1A Tower St, Covent Garden WC2H 9NP