With book by Tim Firth, and music and lyrics by British band Madness, Our House first opened in London's Cambridge Theatre in 2002. It tells the story of Joe Casey who decides to impress his girlfriend, Sarah, by breaking into a new apartment building to show her the view of his neighbourhood on his sixteenth birthday. The police arrive and Joe is faced with two choices: run and save himself or stay and confess to his crime. The musical then takes the audience on a journey through both of these parallel options – the “good” Joe who stays behind to help Sarah and admit to his wrongdoing, and the “bad” Joe who runs away.
The musical is reminiscent of Blood Brothers meets The Castle. In one storyline, Joe ends up in a correctional facility then struggling to gain employment once released, whilst in the other thread, Joe ends up wealthy and living the high life. In both stories, an evil property mogul is out to redevelop the local neighbourhood – which includes the demolition of Joe's family home. Complete with references to music-playing condoms, dilemmas of conscience and morality, it seems an ideal work for a group of university students.
The show opened with a bright ensemble number featuring the well known song, “Our House” and offered considerable potential. However, it soon became apparent that the sound was going to be a problem. With no amplification to the principle cast, much of the lyrics – and sadly the storyline – was drowned out by the noise of the band. Given the fact there is very little dialogue in the show and the story-telling is reliant on the clarity of the diction, this was a significant problem in the early part of the show when the scene was being set for the division into the good and bad Joe dual threads. Ultimately the audience worked out what was happening, but some of the depth to the story line was lost and there was some confusion at times.
Jed Wheaton delivers a solid performance as the two Joe Casey personalities. Lizzie Howells is delightful as the love interest, Sarah, with a sweet voice and confident performance. Sarah Calsina gives a good acting performance as the naughty girl, Reecey, but unfortunately her vocals were lost out to the band and much of her singing could not be heard. Her portrayal seemed angry but given the fact I couldn't hear or understand all of her vocals, I'm not sure if she was truly angry and if so, why. Even more difficult to hear was Niamh O'Keefe as Joe's mother, Kath. With a thick accent and quiet voice much of her performance was sadly lost.
Giancarlo Salamanca is strong as Joe's Dad, although early in the show, again due to the inability to hear all the lyrics, it was not clear he was the father and it was easy to assume he was simply a narrator. Andrew White and Jeremy Russo are fabulous as Joe's friends Emmo and Lewis providing some comic relief with strong performances. Russo in particular had a few show-stealing moments with some crisp and energetic dancing. Meg Bennett and Elsie Fulton play the female friends Billie and Angie, fluctuating between mean girls and bimbos; somewhat of a contrast from the girl-next-door Sarah, to the point that the plausibility of them being Sarah's best friends could be questioned. Rounding out the principle cast is Spencer Hadlow who is well cast as the evil property tycoon, Pressman, delivering a convincing performance.
Lighting was adequate but at times cast members were left performing in darkened areas, making it difficult for the audience to connect with the performance. It may be the cast were trying to stand close to the overhung microphones in an effort to have their vocals heard, but it placed them very forward on the stage and out of the light. This could be quickly rectified with some modification to the position of either the lights or the microphones.
Choreography by Laura Watson was mostly good, but at times too complex for some members of the cast who seemed too focused on where to move next. There were a number of unison issues and the use of props at times only seemed to add to the challenge. However, the cast were enthusiastic and there was a good energy level amongst the ensemble numbers.
Under the leadership of Music Director, Ross Unger, the band provides a good sound. There were a few stray notes early in the show but the quality improved as the show continued. However, as stated earlier, it was the sound balance that was the biggest challenge for this show.
Despite the many faults of this production there was still considerable heart-felt emotion in the final scenes of the show, which is a credit to the performances of the leading actors. Our House has the makings of a good show and just needs to have the sound balanced in order to allow the lyrics and story-telling to come through.