There is currently a fad for musicals based around the songs of popular bands from the 70’s and 80’s. ‘Mamma Mia’, based around Abba songs is having a successful run at the Prince Edward, and ‘We Will Rock You’ based around rock band Queen songs has just extended its run. Can we expect a similar success for ‘Our House’, which is a musical based around the songs of the 80’s band Madness? I believe not!
The book by Tim Firth is excruciatingly bad. It concerns a Camden boy, Joe Casey, who one night decides to impress his girlfriend by breaking into a building site because inside there is an advantage point from which one can get a better view of Camden, and of the street on which he lives. When the police arrive to investigate he has a choice, does he stay and give himself up or does he run?
This decision is vital to the rest of the show because from here on we follow two lives of Joe Casey, the life that results from him staying and the one that results from him running away. Needless to say doing the right thing and handing himself over to the police does not appear to pay. We see this Joe sent to a young offenders institute, lose his girlfriend, and unable to get a job because he is a reformed young offender. Meanwhile the Joe who runs away begins to carve out a thriving criminal ‘career’ and marries the girl he loves, but at a terrible price. I will not tell you the ending, but I will be amazed if it comes as a complete surprise.
This is a basic, if rather fatuous morality tale. We are led to conclude that material riches are not important so long as you are with your family and the people you love. The way to accomplish this success is to be honest and despite the odds, keep on the straight and narrow. Apart from finding this view of life pretentious, the story line contradicts it. The ‘good’ Joe Casey attempts burglary, is violent and obsessively jealous of his girlfriend. He may not be duplicitous like the ‘bad’ Joe Casey, but neither is he an innocent, whose misfortune is always caused by others. The plot is needlessly convoluted and demands too much of an audience who have paid to see what is described as a ‘romantic comedy’.
The choreography by Alan Darling is tedious and anything but creative. Apart from the ensemble being synchronised, I could not find anything else to appreciate in the show’s dance routines. Yes, the band Madness - the original nutty boys- helped to popularise Skanking, a form of dancing to the two-tone/Ska music sound. However, watching it on stage for two and half-hours is mind boringly dull.
I used to enjoy skanking in my younger days, and it was and is great fun, but it is certainly not a spectator sport. Skanking is like head banging at a heavy metal concert: you will never understand why people enjoy it, without being prepared to have a go yourself. I was disappointed not to see some clever routines, which incorporated the best of skanting in an original and innovative way.
Michael Jibson, is the only exceptional member of an otherwise mediocre, but energetic cast. He portrays the two Joe Casey’s with consummate skill. He is just as believable as the smooth, crafty, shallow Casey as he is when playing the unfortunate, hard-done too, loner, Joe Casey. His voice is great for the Madness songs, and he is full of enthusiastic energy.
Though this is a professional production it never quite shakes off the feeling of being a good ‘amateur’ show. The choreography is not special, the story line dire and the music not diverse enough to fill two and a half-hours.
I cannot believe that many Madness fans will have a Skanking good time at this show.
What other critics had to say.....
The show has received mixed notices from the popular press: MICHAEL COVENEY for THE DAILY MAIL says, "There is something fresh and original here......incisive and imaginative production." IAN JOHNS for THE TIMES says, "Our House comes as a welcome relief from the camp idolatry behind Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN did not like it much saying, "In the course of a long evening, the law of diminishing returns inevitably applies" And going on to say, "The musical groans under the burden of too much plot; and after a time the raucous sameness of the numbers begins to pall. " NEIL SMITH for BBC ONLINE says, "Matthew Warchus's direction is slick and inventive, while the young cast are clearly having the time of their lives." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH gives a luke-warm notice saying, "Somehow the show adds up to less than the sum of its promising parts." And goes on to say, "Even fanatical admirers of Madness are likely to find themselves exhausted rather than elated."NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "A compelling, knife-sharp affair." He goes on to say, "Our House is that rare thing, an original musical." PETER HEPPLE for THE STAGE, "Even though the group's songs are all similar in style, Tim Firth has done a good job concocting a plot around them. "
External links to full reviews from popular press