Madeline and Joe – review

A Manic Music Productions, Original Ink and CCM Theatre production
Madeline and Joe

Director  Michele Gutteridge
Book  Alex Bliss
Songs  Jed Spittle and Martin Slipp

Sue Townsend Theatre, Leicester

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A new musical is a tricky beast, and a new musical is often a risk many theatregoers need some persuasion to take. For example, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical at Curve turned out to be a surprisingly hard sell; surprising given it is based on much-loved Leicester writer Sue Townsend’s mega million-selling novel from the 1980s.

New and succinctly-named musical Madeline and Joe has opened at the Sue Townsend Theatre and is billed as ‘a musical tale of one couple’s journey to start a family’, specifically through IVF. Not the easiest subject to tackle but certainly one which generates powerful emotional responses – after all, isn’t it only when you realise you can’t have something you really want it more, never mind the financial implications of IVF treatment?

Madeline and Joe meet, fall in love and get married. Next step: a family, something it seems they both want but with each negative pregnancy test, the threads of their relationship are tested, and ultimately unravel.

At a shade over an hour this story moves swiftly along, although sometimes at the expense of the evolving timeline which limits understanding of how some pretty major life-affecting experiences are handled by the characters. Just over half way into the performance, Madeline appears to have an operation which will have devastating implications for their family plans. More time on this scene would have given a clearer idea of exactly what had happened as this felt a pivotal moment in their relationship.

Dominic Gee makes a Hugh Grant-ish kind of Joe, a hapless and hopeless romantic who would do anything for Madeline, to the point of becoming rather controlling. Madeline (Sophie Tilley) is the opposite: disorganised, happy go lucky and more of a party girl and it does make you wonder if their’s is a relationship that could ever work. Opposites attract, however, so we go along with this, mindful though that couples need a much firmer foundation to embark on the emotional and physical rigours of IVF.

Tilley and Gee spend much of their time on stage ‘apart’ – one often stage left to the other’s right with few moments of ‘togetherness’ which would help foster the idea they are as one, at least at the start.

12095270_690951501042460_5515679833808115833_oEqually, the scenes which give an insight into the gruellingly unromantic yet necessarily medical aspects of IVF treatment (injections, hormone treatments, examinations), could be more effective if shown differently. For example, Madeline laid so low by the treatment she is forced to bed with Joe tending to her; much of the action is done standing or sitting at a table.

In any musical, songs need to drive the narrative forward and generally this is achieved by songwriters Jed Spittle and Martin Slipp. Standout song in this ballad-heavy piece is the more uptempo ‘Monday at 10’ (I am guessing at the song titles here) which gives a humorous yet poignant exposé of the more scientific end of procreation and sample-providing. ‘Suffering in Silence’ includes some clever lyrics.

Madeline and Joe is born from the personal experiences of a couple of the creatives involved and overall, this is a gentle look at a challenging subject.

Producers Manic Music Productions, Original Ink and CCM Theatre Production hope to travel to Edinburgh Fringe in 2016 and this could work, however, to stand out in a highly competitive market some tweaks are needed.

In Ben Elton’s novel Inconceivable (and subsequent film Maybe Baby), Elton really goes for the clash between comical and heartbreaking, thus heightening the emotional journey of the protagonists. There are moments of humour which work nicely, however, changes in pace and direction in Madeline and Joe would help to show the light and shade of a character or situation and inconsistencies in Madeline’s character are worth re-visiting.

With just over nine months to Edinburgh 2016, there’s time for this musical to fully develop.

Rehearsal images by Pamela Raith Photography

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