Paul T Davies reviews The Season, a new musical by Jim Barne and Kit Buchan now playing at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
6 November 2019
With the romantic aspects of East Anglia firmly on the map following Richard Curtis’s mega rom-com hit Yesterday, Christmas comes early at the New Wolsey Theatre with Jim Barne's and Kit Buchan’s new musical, The Season. Dougal travels from Ipswich to New York to attend his father’s wedding, (a rich man who he has never met), and is met at the airport by Robin, the bride’s sister. A co-production between The New Wolsey and the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, the show has been lovingly nurtured by Mercury Musical Developments, and it’s always good to see a brand new British musical. Inevitably, the problem with his show is that, due to pantomime, it will struggle to be performed in the actual Christmas season. I know I’m a Grinch here, but the first performance was on Bonfire Night. Whilst not being a total banger, there is plenty of sparkle in this production.
Dougal is excitable, friendly, loves Christmas, and Robin is, of course, the exact opposite. It’s a step by step rom-com and you can tick off each cliché as the show progresses, but it is saved by two wonderful performances- the only cast are Dougal and Robin. Alex Cardall is perfect as Dougal, getting the funniest lines, and loving the role, he is hugely watchable and brings a great deal of warmth to the proceedings. Tori Allen-Martin has a more difficult job with Robin, having to convey someone muted by the overzealous nature of the Season, and she harbours a secret which means she is actually not invited to the wedding. But she is a good foil for Cardall, and the two of them are strong vocally, and there is much fun to be had in their fledging relationship.
The strongest section of the musical is the middle, from the song Under the Mistletoe, through the Act One closer, American Express, and the beginning of Act Two, the wonderful Hangover Duet. Here the lyrics burst into clever life, and my inner Grinch was silent- I was completely charmed by it. However, it is a thin plot and the show stretches out a Chinese restaurant scene far too long, and the pair take an age to say goodbye. It could lose ten minutes and the interval and be a much tighter show, and a lot will depend on whether you are the type of person who has already watched Love Actually this month. It still feels in development, I yearned to see some of the characters referred to, not least Dad and his bride to be Melissa.
That said, Tim Jackson’s production has a spring in its step for most of the show, and it all takes place on an ingenious set by Amy Jane Cook, a clever conveyor belt of discoveries. Stage it in December, and there will be even more love shown to it, as it was the press night audience gave it a warm reception.