Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Our House - The Musical, Congress Theatre Eastbourne, Wednesday 8th October, 2008

Our House The Musical
Congress Theatre Eastbourne

8th October 2008


Joe Casey - Chris Carswell
Sarah - Miria Parvin
Joe's Dad - Steve Brookstein
Kath Casey - Gwyneth Strong
Lewis - Jack Shalloo
Emmo - Michael Everest
Billie - Jenny Fitzpatrick
Angie - Sophia Nomvete
Reecey - Sam Mackay
Mr Pressman - Trevor Jary


Lauren Appleby
Chris Overton
Chloe Campbell
Leyla Pellegrini
Craig Daniel Adams
Ellie Robertson
Robert Foley
Warren Sollars
Tamsin Laverick
Will Stokes
Michael Melmoe
Mark Wilshire


Musical Director/Piano - Robert Chalmers
Keyboards/Assistant MD - Jon Ranger
Drums - Paul Matthews
Bass Guitar - Oliver Latka

Guitar - Derrick Harris

Saxophone/Flute/Clarinet - Dave Mansell
Trumpet - Mike Nickel

It's not many times in a lifetime you can see two completely different stage productions in the same year both with identical names - in this case "Our House".

But that has happened to us for the first time in 2008. One "Our House" being a totally stunning production and something I would gladly see again. The other being the most boring, pathetic, load of drivel I have ever watched in my life and something I would never see again even if I was paid to do so

Fortunately, today's show, at the Congress Theatre, which also just happened to fall on my birthday, was the brilliant show.

Being a teen in the 80's I used to love the madcap music of Madness. But it has to be said not everybody was a huge fan or familiar with all of their songs. My wife falls into this latter category and she had her doubts that she would enjoy the show.

She did not come away disappointed. To achieve that sort of positive reaction from somebody who isn't even completely familiar with the music means this show must have something special.

Our House has just that. It has energy, variety, laughter, sadness and there isn't a moment when your eyes aren't glued to the stage. It has something else though. In addition to the best use of doors since the movie Monsters Inc. this show also works because it was superbly written in the first place by the playwright, Tim Firth.

Take just a few of Madness's hits used in this show. Our House, It Must Be Love, Los Palmas 7, NW5, Driving In My Car and Embarrassment. You probably couldn't get a more diverse background of themes in 6 songs by the same artist if you tried. To take such songs and to put them into a believable storyline is one thing. But it is also amazing that the end result does not in any way appear like the writer just threw all the Madness songs in , determined to use them, regardless of whether it worked or not.

It just all works and makes for a thoroughly entertaining show!

The storyline is based around youth, Joe Casey. His late father made some bad criminal choices in life and eventually paid the ultimate price. Joe's father's ghost watches over his son as he commits a rather petty first crime of breaking and entering, accompanied reluctantly by girlfriend Sarah. The police are called and when they arrive at the door Joe tells Sarah to make a run for it. She does so but encourages Joe to do the right thing and give himself up.

Very cleverly, at this point, the story is split in two directions. In alternating scenes we see what happens if Joe does the "right thing" and likewise if he does the "wrong thing". Notice the quote marks. They are there for a reason in this musical. I did expand on that last sentence but I've decided to take it out to avoid spoiling the plot for any future productions and for people who haven't appreciated this masterpiece.

The cast members

With a musical that is so engrossing and so well performed it is always a bit tough having to single a few people out to mention. Rest assured though the complete cast are very professional and deserve the acclaimed reviews this show has received.

Gwyneth Strong, Congress Theatre, Eastbourne , Our House, 2008The "headline artists" pictured on the billboards and leaflets for the show are former X-Factor winner (and reported Simon Cowell anti-fan) singer Steve Brookstein and actress, Gwyneth Strong (Cassandra in Only Fools and Horses).

Gwyneth Strong's role in this as Joe's mother is actually relatively minor compared to all other characters. However, the character of Kath Casey is absolutely vital to the storyline. When she does appear it is for rather brief acting, rather than singing, scenes. Without any disrespect to Gwyneth this role could quite easily have been played by any decent actress of around the same age. Her role in Our House gives the appearance of being for headline artist purposes only to attract a larger audience.

I can't help feeling that if I was an ardent Gwyneth Strong fan and had gone to see her in Our House expecting a lot from the advertised star I may have felt a little short-changed.

Steve Brookstein is perfectly cast as the late father of Joe Casey proving he can act admirably as well as sing. Steve's songs in this show are relatively sombre numbers which he delivers completely professionally, as you would expect.

Steve Brookstein, Congress Theatre, Eastbourne , Our House, 2008But in this show his face may be on the advertising posters but even he would admit he is not the leading star in this show, nor does he have the majority of the songs to take part in. Steve Brookstein is a hugely talented singer and songwriter and hopefully this convincing role as Joe's dad will lead to some other doors opening for him.

He is a lovely bloke to meet too, friendly and jovial and I am sure he will not mind me giving the maximum credit to the 2 stars of this show who are not pictured on any poster or leaflet for Our House.

These are Chris Carswell and Miria Parvin.

Miria Parvin plays the suffering, but always devoted, love interest of Joe Casey.

This attractive, extremely friendly and hugely talented Finnish born actress trained at the Guildford School of acting. She may have only made her professional debut in 2006 and yet she has already
played the lead role of Pearl in the UK tour of Starlight Express and also Ariel in Footloose, both on tour and in the West End.

Her mother tongue may be Finnish, but as with many Scandanavians you would never know. She sings beautifully, acts flawlessly, and cast in this role of Sarah, which is at many times extremely emotional, Miria is nothing short of brilliant.

She has performed at the Royal Albert Hall in the Royal Memorial Concert and, amongst other things, appeared in various productions by the the Finnish National Opera.

Cast alongside fellow co-star Chris Carswell the pair complement each other perfectly.

Judging by what we saw at Eastbourne I have a feeling Miria Parvin has many more leading roles ahead of her. I certainly look forward to seeing her in the future.

And so on to Chris Carswell as Joe Casey. What an excellent performance this young man gives in this leading role. This is made even more impressive as this is not only Chris's first professional leading role it is actually his professional debut performance. What a way to start your professional career!

Our House is in the Guinness Book Of Records for the highest number of quick costume changes an actor has to make. That character is Joe Casey and Chris handles not only these amazingly
fast changes with ease but at the same time turns in a level of performance any well established actor would be proud of.

Chris's acting demonstrates strengths both in comedy and tragedy scenes. Coming straight into Our House from the Mountview Academy Chris Carswell's professional career has only just begun!

Credit has to go to casting director James Orange for getting such a great cast together for Our House.

I feel I have to mention a few other cast members for making the show so memorable. Jack Shalloo and Michael Everest as Lewis and Emmo are an excellent comedy duo as Joe's mates. Likewise the female comedic duo of Jenney Fitzpatrick and Sophia Nomvete as Billie and Angie provides many a hearty laugh throughout the production.

Relatively new professional Sam Mackay adds to the the more sinister side of the story. Bad boy Reecey is played so well by Sam you get the feeling you wouldn't want to bump into him on a dark night! Equally Trevor Jary (from ITV's series The One) makes for a very convincing no-heart property developer Trevor Jary.

What ended this show nicely though was the finale - essentially the encore section.

As I said earlier the real stars of this show are not the more famous names appearing on the posters but all the other cast members.

This has been cleverly reflected in this final section. There is a first bow where, following the other cast members taking the applause, Steve Brookstein and Gwyneth Strong come out rightly followed by Miria Parvin and Chris Carswell to huge cheers. After this there is a final encore section where Steve and Gwyneth go off leaving all the youngsters to dominate in a terrific "Our House Finale".

That is a very nice and fitting touch.

Our House, on this paricular evening, played to a Congress Theatre no more than 1/3 of capacity.

Despite the fact they still got a huge amount of cheers and applause this cast deserve better than that. I hope that sooner or later theatre shows get advertised better and that people get out and appreciate good live entertainment.

This show is superb and I would recommend it to all. Madness fans or not. Young or old the performance has something for all to appreciate. Energy, enthusiasm, great music, superb choreography (Peter Darling), laughter, tears, cars on roller coasters and dozens of doors!!!!

I must stress do not, whatever you do, confuse this Our House, with the dramatically abysmal, utterly boring, stage play of the same name. I hope Our House hasn't lost audience members because they have glimpsed reviews of the other show! I will be reviewing it too - it won't be good!

If you missed the UK tour of Our House - The Musical or get the chance to see it in the future here is an example of this fine production. Our House - The Musical Official Site

2011 - unfortunately despite Steve Brookstein's superb performance in Our House he has failed to go on to the success he had hoped for.

Since 2009 Steve has been causing controversy after controversy in his tirades against celebrities and members of the public on Twitter.

Even ignoring the fact he is a celebrity I can think of no other Twitter user who is so vulgar and spiteful on the popular social networking facility.

Many describe him as bitter following the fact his X-Factor contract was allegedly not what he thought it would be. Simon Cowell was therefore his initial target. From Simon he has moved on to many other well known targets. Cheryl Cole, One Direction, Matt Cardle to name but a few. With an alleged assault charge against him Louis Walsh is Steve's latest victim (June 2011). Calling Louis a 'scumbag' and 'liar' seems tame compared to the insinuation Brookstein made that young stars Walsh mentors on X-Factor  may at risk. He claimed it was a joke however with the death of a Conservative official at Glastonbury before the deceased was named Brookstein was posting Tweets that he was praying it was Louis who had died.

Understandably he has faced a Twitter backlash from Louis Walsh's Twitter Fans on @Walshlife however Brookstein just thrives on the anger and @stevebrookstein simply continues to make as many lives as miserable as possible. 

If you Google Steve Brookstein at the current time now you will not find details of his X-Factor success prioritized but pages of links to all the different parties he has abused in the last couple of years. I am no exception to this following my expression of disgust to him over the vile Louis Walsh comments.

Whilst Twitter allows Freedom of Speech I do believe that when it comes to wishing people dead and ignoring the feelings of the family of somebody who has died we are pushing the boundaries of decency.

I know it will be like water off a duck's back but this talented guy carries around a huge X-Factor chip on his shoulder. I cannot see myself ever wanting to support any production he is appearing in. People will therefor have to decide for themselves whether he deserves to be seen.

Personally I'd love to see him try to change his ways and to rebuild his career by hard work rather than spending so much time typing abuse to others. But with 2 years of nasty tweets so far I cannot see this changing.

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