Water Babies – The Musical – Review

William J Connolly
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Thomas Milner and Louise Dearman | Photo by Johan Persson

Curve Theatre, Leicester | May 2014 | 7:30pm

Fresh, different and unusual. Water Babies is a magical hit!

Set underwater and featuring a cast of immense talent, take a trip to the far side of your imagination and experience the magical world of Water Babies. A musical based on the book by Charles Kingsley, is brought to the stage and directed by Ed Curtis and Guy Jones. The show follows the life of a young boy convicted of a crime he did not commit, and his subsequent escape and challenge to right the wrong and find what’s true in his life, all the while aided by a host of magical creatures along his journey. Water Babies pushes the boundaries of theatre, questions the strength of a young boy’s heart, and asks if everything really will turn out right.

Louise Dearman as Mrs. D (Mrs. Do-as-you-would-be-done-by) is enchanting, powerful, often humorous and on regular occasion totally mind-blowing in vocal talent. Following and often protecting the show’s young star Tom is no easy ride, yet Dearman manages to overcome many scenes of long dialogue and bring depth to a role that could so easily have been too magical and pretend. Magic is great, but fairies? Often accompanied by a cloak or magical hand gesture, freezing time or changing young Tom’s wrong decisions, she takes command of every opportunity to draw you into her world and amaze with her vocal talent. ‘The End’, her act two closing number, hits you right in the heart, both vocally and emotionally – A true star.

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Thomas Milner, as lost and heartbroken Tom, leads the piece with his highly emotional struggle to return home and find the girl he loves. With most of Milner’s scenes taking place towards the immediate front of the stage, the opportunity to look deep into the young performer’s eyes and feel the heartbreak, especially towards the end of the show, became ever more real and accessible. This noticeably comes into play during the closing moments of the show with a parting goodbye with lover Ellie. Milner does however get many happier moments in the show, most noticeably the duet ‘The Last Page’, which brings out his cheeky, energetic side. He is a real light of energy and innocence to watch and also follow on his emotional journey.

Alongside Milner is heartbroken Lauren Samuels as Tom’s rich, young lover Ellie. Aiding in assisting her love escape arrest, she later loses him to the water and remains broken for the majority of the show, regularly delivering solo inserts of songs about loss and holding on. Although almost all sad, with the vocal talent of Samuels – a voice many performers simply dream of – she delivers a performance as vocally beautiful as the lady herself. These interjections proved to be nothing but a pleasure throughout.

Thomas Lister plays an understated but powerful role cast as both of the show’s evil characters: Grimes and Eel. Lister’s performance, often showing clear inspiration from The Mad Hatter, delivers a cartoon-like baddie that strives to capture the Water Babies and push Tom’s story into a darker direction, even if the fluidity of the performance is sometimes a broken affair. The show is filled with echoes of Peter Pan mixed alongside Alice in Wonderland as it frequently returns to the two leading females to provide narration.

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Musically, the piece is held together by some uplifting ensemble numbers and then destroyed in sadness by beautiful solo pieces. Chris Egan’s orchestrations – with book and lyrics by Ed Curtis – are often drenched in melancholy and are enough for even the strongest to feel the emotional pull. Unfortunately, some slight sound issues left a cold act one closing, amongst many other soloist sound problems throughout. Although on occasion the story felt lost, and often dismissing many key parts, its four leads held the piece together well regardless. No doubt you will leave singing at least one of the shows songs.

Standout numbers include ‘Catch Me’, ‘The Last Page’, ‘This World’, ‘Waiting For You’, ‘Open Your Eyes’ and ‘The End’.

Hilarious supporting roles come from comedy trio Andy Gray as Jock, Samuel Holmes as Terrence and Tom Davey rounding them up with Claude – a lobster, seahorse and swordfish respectively. The trio bring the laughs, although occasionally are slightly pantomimic, but with just the right amount of heart. Painfully funny and occasionally rather rude, a great imbalance. Rebecca Jayne-Davies, as feisty Water Baby Ariadne is glorious in her role alongside some great support from a young, energetic ensemble – The real backbone of the piece.

Although not until almost the close of the show, the production’s use of water adds an extra level of emotion in its closing moments. Amy Jackson makes an impression with her outrageous costume design presented on Morgan Large’s rather grand set. The age of the piece, and the freshness of the scenic design, added to an already visually superb production – totally enchanting. If a transfer were to happen, this would need to be maintained.

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Although the show does require a large imagination and the love of a good fairy story, the excellent work of the cast mixed with a catchy score, makes it something exciting to explore. After all, isn’t theatre the perfect place to escape?

The future for a show like Water Babies may lie with the chance of a producer giving it a West End remake and go ahead; however, with the close of many new pieces in London already in 2014, the chances seem slim. Let’s just hope someone believes in magic, mystery and heart – the perfect ingredients for a new family musical.

Water Babies continues at the Curve until the 17th May 2014. Tickets can be found at: www.curveonline.co.uk

About William J Connolly

Theatre journalist | Ex: The Times Newspaper, London 2012 (PR) and Marketing Manager for CHTC (Sheffield Lyceum). Twitter: @WJConnolly