I had the pleasure tonight, to visit the Albert Hall to see Coram Boy. It was based on the book, with the same name, written by Jamila Gavin that and published in 2000. Coram Boy has been adapted for the stage by Helen Edmundson, who is also adapted Small Island from book to play.
Both book and play feature the work of Thomas Coram, who established a hospital (The Founding Hospital) in 1739 for unwanted and orphaned children. The story reflects some of the social inequalities at that time: the abused poor mistreated children and slavery. It touches other emotive subjects such as death, bullying, the breakdown of families and extortion. Some of the subject matters identify with today. For instance, the way that some perceive the Arts as being an area that is not worth pursuing, extortion, people being on the breadline, the breaking down of families and the consequences.
The play takes place in the Albert Hall, with the Binns organ taking centre stage. The opening scene starts with cast members entering the hall from the four corners singing to the background of John Keys playing the organ. The result was very atmospheric and set the scene well for the rest of the play. The singing was pitch-perfect, and you could hear the different tones showing the level practise and commitment to produce an excellent production.
Throughout, this level of professionalism was evident, with the marrying of action along with great music and incredible talent. There were several excellent solos by, for example, Rachel Burbridge (young Thomas), Harry Pavelou (Alexander) Moyege Oke (Melissa Milcote). At the end of scene one, when the baby skulls were found, the choir and the music together created a chilling atmosphere. It was captivating, and I almost didn’t want to experience the interval then because I wanted to find out what was going to happen next.
Acting did not only take place on the extended centre stage, but it also took part in between the chairs. During the scene depicting the ball, there were dancers on the stage and the floor. The choir sang from the back of the hall to the choir stand at the front. It seemed as if every inch of the room was used to its full advantage bringing a different dimension to it, that was not just at the front of the stage. The play tackled difficult subjects along with some comedy, live music, dancing and singing.
Sir William Ashbrook’s (Kevin Brown) speech was emotional and it took you with him. It was great to see his character change from being a cold, bully to warm husband, father and grandfather.
The scene where Thomas is stabbed, followed by Alexander, Aaron and Meshak Gardiner jumping into the sea and subsequently drowning, made painful watching. I almost held my breath, waiting to see what was going to happen next.
Snippets of Handel’s Messiah were featured throughout. The crescendo at the end, left some of my fellow members of the audience wiping tears while confirming that it was the best play that they’ve ever seen. I can agree with that sentiment.
2020© Sharon RM Stevens