The Clockmaker's Tale

Date 20th March 2018
Society University of Manchester Musical Theatre Society
Venue Barton Arcade Basement
Type of Production Musical
Director Lucy Scott
Musical Director Charlie Perry
Choreographer n/a

Report

Author: Kevin Proctor

This is the second piece of new writing that UMMTS have presented this year, something which is very rare in this field of our game as well as being refreshing and inspiring but also bringing with it a completely new set of risks and challenges for the company.

I have no doubt that this piece will be revisited again by its creators, this production is likely to be the beginning of a ‘work in progress’ project, some fine tuning is required as it’s not a finished piece yet. Attention is needed to the script with some readdressing of terminology being the most prominent observation. The premise and idea behind the piece is abundant for what’s being attempted and the structure of it is not a million miles away from being accomplished.  

The inspiration and story for this original musical gives the creatives enough to factor a full-length musical out of but the material presented to us at this performance is only enough to warrant a one act production as a lot of what was presented in the first half could do with being axed due to having zero impact on the sequence of events actually being told. The scene set in the tavern which featured a series of short tales told in turn by chorus members gave us a glimpse of some Prague folk tales, it was a rather lengthy sequence which felt completely separate from the tale and created an interruption to the flow of the feature story. I appreciate that this idea would have sprouted from needing to give an ensemble something to do - a montage featuring minor principals to warrant their existence, however, that’s exactly as it seemed and no more. The overindulgence of ineptly flopping about as an inebriated ensemble for fifteen minutes grew tiresome rather quickly.

Although I have some experience with writing and devising theatre, the flair and craft of compiling a musical score is something I know very little about so I’m not going to insult the composer by attempting to understand what’s involved but I can offer you some reaction - although I very much enjoyed elements of the score it’s crying out for a mantra and a rousing peaking number, an anthem.

Lucy Scott took the responsibility of shaping this original work and getting it on its feet. Characters were depicted with clarity though my main point here is that so much of the delivery seemed improvised and off the cuff. This could either be a case of the writer regularly changing the script/wording throughout the rehearsal process or the result of not giving you enough, or potentially a result of being under rehearsed. Knowing this society, I’d find the latter harder to believe. Whatever the underpinning reason, the production left me with an ‘it’s unfinished’ impression. No doubt this is the result of just one of the many obstacles of creating new material.

Jordan Jones as the Mayor showcased his booming bass tones, his earlier scenes offered good command and stature.

Hugh Beckwith was the pivot of the show making the very best of what he was given to build upon. Jana portrayed by Mary Morris seemed incredibly nervous and it felt as though she couldn’t connect with Gregor, avoiding eye contact which is my major criticism from this portrayal, however, she was aptly suited to the role and on the whole delivered a good act. Roman Armstrong was the only light relief element which seemed to fit as he wasn’t too forced and didn’t appear to be jarring with the ambiance and other elements of the production, his role was beautifully turned around to become something you least expected when he came to Gregor’s aid. Dom McGann was wonderfully sinister as Ondrej providing what was probably the most accomplished performance of the evening for me.

Due to UMMTS usual venue in the SU council chambers being refurbished they’ve been challenged even further this year by needing to relocate their presentations, this venue (despite being freezing, though not as cold as at Footlights) had the ideal ambiance for this work. The candles and mood of the music made for a slightly spooky evening. It’s both innovative and exciting to be so adaptable.   

The plot is meaty, riddled with facts and history and things get gruesome which is a fine list of ingredients to create a piece of musical theatre. Act two was approximately twenty minutes yet had the strongest elements of the entire piece within it. Readdress the wording within the script to appear less puerile, maybe add another plot line which can be interweaved with what you’ve already got to warrant a two act piece - or - scrap the interval, hack away at some of the padding (tavern scene) and you’ve got a solid one act musical. And include a show off signature anthem and a mantra.

I applaud any society for taking the plunge to trust, risk, invest and commit to a project with the degree of delving into the unknown presenting a new piece of writing incurs. It’s a lot of pressure but also acquires some financial relief from hefty licence fees which is weighed out by pressure to create something of adequate standard. The cast seemed wholly invested in the project with believing in the piece which is testament to an evidently passionate and influential creative team.