30th April 2014
Archive Project – re-published review
Water babies – a musical adventure
Reviewed by Trevor Locke
Presented by Peter Shaw and Joanna Cecil for Archerwest Ltd and Water Babies Musical UK Ltd
Book and lyrics by Ed Curtis and Guy Jones
Music by Chris Egan, inspired by the film produced by Peter Shaw, screenplay by Michael Robson, based on the novel by Charles Kingsley.
Staring: Louise Dearman as Mrs Do as you would be done by, Tom Lister as Eel and grimes,Tomas Milner as the lead character Tom and Lauren Samuels as his girlfriend Ellie.
Executive Producer – Tristan Baker, casting by Anne Vosser, orchestral management by Steve Socci, set design by Morgan Large, choreography by Nick Winston. Directed by Ed Curtis. Producer – Joanna Cecil
Peter Shaw said “The idea of turning Water Babies into a theatrical musical was first suggested to me over 30 years ago by the late, great Hollywood star, James Mason …”
Orphaned teenage hero Tom is framed for a crime he did not commit. To escape capture at the edge of a waterfall, he jumps. Instead of dying he wakes up in the ocean where he encounters a new world of enchantment, danger and adventure.
To get back to the girl be left behind, Tom must face a set of challenges in the underwater world he discovers. With a set of unlikely friends – a lobster, a seahorse and a swordfish – he sets out in search of the Water Babies, a mysterious set of people who can help him to return to his own world.
Two thirds of the show is set underwater in the ocean. The cast of characters – including the three sea creatures who ride around on bicycles. Charles Kingsley’s book was about fairies – it was a fairy tale and this musical sets out to capture that spirit.
This production uses the amazing technical facilities of Curve’s stage to bring alive a story that would be difficult enough in film, let alone on a live stage. The song and dance routines reflect many of the aspects of traditional musical productions, anchoring the theatrical elements and stunning visual effects into a recognisable format. How do you represent an Eel? Costume designer Amy Jackson gives the character a lycra jump suit onesie, a large cloak and a top hat. What do you do to costumise a sea horse? Another stroke of brilliance – you make him into a french dandy with a fan and put him on a bicycle. Amy Jackson’s worked fantasy into her costumery to make sea creatures into human beings.
The set designs were cunning and inventive, designer Morgan Large wanting “the two worlds of above-water and under-water to be given a distinct visual language”, the judge in the court room scene sitting on a lifeguard’s chair and the rooftop scene using upturned boats as roofs and in some scenes we saw a submerged Victorian pier.
The show was in two acts, the first setting the storyline and Tom’s leap into the water and in the second Tom finds the Water Babies and secures their help to return to his own world of dry land, to be re-united with his girl friend Ellie.
The show offered a captivating story line about teenage self-discovery, a love story and a fantasy adventure. The lyrics were impressive and the witty dialogue was snappy. Plenty of visual and verbal humour kept the audience launching in the right places, counterposed with moments of poignancy and pathos. The sets were ingenious with a lot of moving and shifting going on and the landmark special effects (SFX) used the wonderful technical facilities at Curve (better than most you would find in the West End.)
A show suitable for an all-ages audience, it would be a satisfying experience for young and old alike. Chris Egan’s music was modern and workmanlike although there were no hit songs to whilstle on the way home (unlike the recent production of Fame at the DMH and the earlier production of Priscilla.)
The singing and dancing were of a high standard and the acting was quite good, mainly because the casting had resulting in a good line-up of artists to fit the characters.
Water Babies at Curve featured in a news item on BBC’s East Midlands Today and was the first Curve show to benefit from prime-time tv advertising (to my knowledge.)
An enjoyable show, offering plenty of entertainment. High on technical wizardry, the show presents a demanding story in a way that is about as successful as it can get for a theatre. With its real waterfall and holographic imaging, it was a superbly clever production. Solid performances from Louise Dearman as Mrs D and Tom Lister as Eel rather eclipsed those of Tomas Milner as the hero Tom and Lauren Samuels as Ellie. The trio of Lobster, Seahorse and Swordfish were scene stealers. Richard E Grant (Downton Abbey, Gosford Park, Doctor Who) played the Kraken. The show received its world premier at Curve.
See our article giving the pre-show background
Photos credits: Photo © Johan Persson
This article was previously published on Arts In Leicstershire. It was been re-published today (17/11/14) was part of our archiving project.
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