Fringe Box



Close the Coalhouse Door – Stage Dragon

Published on: 30 May, 2012
Updated on: 30 May, 2012

Chris Connel (who plays Jackie) and Jane Holman (who plays Mary) - Photo Keith Pattison

by The Stage Dragon

Gritty, witty and entertaining are all words that describe this revival of Close The Coalhouse Door.  Actor-musician shows are few and far between now, so it’s lovely to see such a well-trained group of professionals performing Alex Glasgow’s beautifully harmonised pieces to Sam Kenyon’s inventive new arrangements.

Not satisfied with conventional instruments such as the guitar, piano, flute and violin; Sam also provides the company with bottles to blow on and tap, spoons to play and even a metal wash board to scrape – all of which were taken on by the cast with ease.

Nicholas Lumley (who plays Thomas) - Photo Keith Pattison

Close The Coalhouse Door runs through three acts (yes, three!) and takes the audience on a journey through time beginning the first act with the actors looking at the nineteenth century, which then leads to the second act taking a look at ‘between-the-wars chaos’ and finally finishing in the third act with 1947-modern day.

As this was a production written in 1968, additional material has been provided by Lee Hall which is added onto the end very effectively, with up-to-date topical commentary on how the mining industry looks today and some witty references to most recent events in the past week or so, thrown in by the actors.

There is a huge Brecht influence throughout; actors break down the fourth wall with constant reminders to the audience that they are watching a play. The final song reinforces this telling us “this is only a story” repeatedly.

This style allows the actors to relax into the piece and with this the audience does too. Even when Chris Connel (Jackie) and Nicholas Lumley (Thomas) corpsed during the second act, it worked and we were able to laugh it off with both actors.

Paul Woodson (who plays 'John') - Photo Keith Pattison

The cast work together tremendously, bouncing off each other’s high energy they keep a quick pace throughout – even in the more serious of scenes. As a company they demonstrate a vast range of skills such as mime, multi-rolling, chorus work, stage combat, accent work and of course musicianship.

Both Chris Connel and Jane Holman (Mary) drive the action forward, their lively characterisations stand out and both command the audience’s attention when onstage. Louisa Farrant (Ruth) has a beautiful singing voice but on occasion lets her Scarborough accent drop which is a shame.

This is not a production you should see if you’re tired: it’s lengthy and can be confusing. However, it is thought-provoking and highly enjoyable. This production is what history lessons should be like! Running at the Yvonne Arnaud until Saturday 2nd June.

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