Jermyn Street Theatre, August 2014
A long awaited week of 'Alchemy' shows in the London Off West End was over much too fast... After a year of preparations including weeks of rehearsals, designing costumes, building scenery, endless vocal and acting exercises, pre-show promotion, designing programmes, gathering equipment, planning lights and sound effects, we finally stood in front of the Jermyn Street Theatre staring in wonder at the banner placed neatly at the entrance. 'Alchemy' made its way to the West End!
Undeniable success of the shows, confirmed by audiences' more-than-warm reception was, in fact, a result of hard work of many people both on and off stage. The show has matured and developed conspicuously since its concert premiere in Katowice and a lot of alterations have been introduced since its theatrical version in Cheltenham. Ian Baldwin, a director of the London production, planned and supervised every detail of the show with expertise, determination and creativity. The characters got “carved” into perfection and each scene got skilfully balanced and crafted. Baldwin directorial skills combined with Clive Nolan's genius resulted in a witty, visually stunning and musically delightful production.
'Alchemy' is a time-machine... For two hours, the audiences got transferred into the heart of Victorian London. Exquisite Steampunk costumes, props and scenery, designed for this occasion by Natalie Barnett and her assistants and Beth Turner (Mr. Nolan's and Mr. Sears costumes), provided a unique flavour to the scenes and got us drawn into an adventurous realm of Professor King and his entourage. Mark Westwood (sound design) and Alec Morris (lighting design) deserve a special mention, as the vibe and mood of the whole show was as much an outcome of their visionary ideas and labour as that of the actors on stage.
The level of the production was maintained by all of the actors alike and surely it is thanks to meticulous and conscious preparation and work on the roles that allowed to achieve such a harmony within the team. Clive Nolan, the maestro himself, once more proved that storytelling and composing are just a few of his talents. In the London production he enchanted the audience with the most profound and mature rendition of the role of mysterious Professor King. It is never easy to play a positive character in a convincing way (especially when matched with a baddie of Lord Jagman calibre). However, King came across as mysterious, enigmatic and a strong character in style of many classic Victorian adventurers and explorers. 'Quaternary Plan' (aided by most excellent chorus members) was a real gem; the final King-Jagman duel, 'Treachery', was a pleasure to watch and listen to and so was another of my personal favourites, “Tide of Wealth”. A delightful performance indeed!
King's nemesis, the villainous Lord Henry Jagman, was masterly portrayed by Andy Sears. As in the previous productions, Sears delivered an excellent singing and acting performance not straying from any dangerous stunt that the role required, including “flying” through the air and landing on a hard theatre floor in the final scene. Andy's vile glances and gestures will certainly be remembered by the audience, which day by day seemed to get hypnotised by this ingenious spectacle.
'Alchemy' is a blend of adventure, mystery and romance. Gifted with good looks and a warm tenor voice, Matthew Ronchetti, made a very convincing William Gardelle. Together with the charismatic Agnieszka Swita in the role of William's love interest, Amelia Darvas, the couple quickly succeeded in making the audience follow their tragic love story with bated breath and compassion. Amelia's dying scene was one of the most beautiful and touching moment of the show. Ronchetti's exquisite acting and his depiction of a tormented lover in “Amelia” and “Burial at Sea” was the reason for many tears shed in the theatre over the week. Swita's most memorable moments included passion and fury in “One for the Noose” and the colourful gypsy impersonation in “Highgate”.
Victoria Bolly shined as Eva Bonaduce, a fierce warrior with a voice of a lark. It is always a treat to watch this dainty lady transform into an unbridled vamp and it was no different this time. Once more Bolley offered a spectacular vocal and acting performance, confirming her status of a first class artist ready for stages of the West End and beyond. Her solo aria 'Share This Dream' most definitely found its place among the highlights of the show.
Verity Smith, who in the Cheltenham production delighted the viewers as the ruthless Jane Muncey, in London was cast in two roles, Mrs. Muncey and Jessamine. Her Muncey was as superb as ever - she amazed with passionate and light delivery of a song as complex as 'The Unwelcome Guest'. A truly enjoyable performance! Under the watchful eye of the director, Smith's Jessamine became an utterly new character – a street urchin kept in glorious tradition of Dickensian Artful Dodger or Hugo's Gavroche. Verity's impressive ability to transform almost unrecognisably from one character to another – from a scruffy destitute pauper to a refined seductive housekeeper (in such a short time too), deserves the highest praise. She was superb in both parts.
Two more actors took up a challenge of double casting in the London production. Ross Andrews, remembered from Cheltenham as the stoic Captain Farrell, in London appeared on stage also in the role of Jagman's vicious accomplice, Benjamin Greaves. Both Andrews' roles proved to be masterpieces in their own right. “Burial at Sea” was a definite highlight (hats off to the whole quartet). But it is the role of the devilishly delightful Greaves that will stay in memory after his London performance. “Street Fight”, choreographed by Tom Jordan, became a story within a story and we owe it much to excellent acting skills of Andrews.
Chris Lewis performing the role of the fearful alchemist, Thomas Anzeray, brought an element of unearthly mystery and fright to the musical's grand finale. “Anzeray Speaks” was as always one of the most powerful moments. However, the London production made it clear that there is much more to Lewis than a hard rock demon! This time he also provided the audience with some most delightful comedy bits in “Ambush” and “Tide of Wealth” as a chief of the mercenaries, Milosh (a round of applause to the costume designer!). As the London Jessamina, Milosh became a brand new character and a very different one from any of the previous productions. Another remarkable performance!
The show would not be complete without the chorus. And although this time it consisted of just 7 members, they added a lot of colour and flavour to each scene. A vibe of a real Victorian England was conjured up much by the team efforts of Caron Morgan, Natalie Barnett, Ollie West, Ethan Barnett, Colin Greene, Ron Milsom and Ian Baldwin – great job and a high class spectacle!
For us all the London week was pure magic and a great culmination to an extremely busy year. Three sold out nights and many familiar faces in the audience (some of which travelled a long way from Norway, France, Holland, Spain, Germany, Poland, Ireland and other far away places and attended all of the shows!) were a clear proof of success. Enthusiastic reactions were as rewarding as work at the theatre itself. Our big thank you goes to Penny Horner and the team of the Jermyn Street Theatre, who helped us go through the whole week in an orderly fashion and made the experience so pleasurable. We enjoyed it tremendously! Hopefully, the August shows marked just another step on the 'Alchemy' road and there is more awaiting the musical, the whole team and Clive Nolan... without whose remarkable talent that week in the West End would never have happened at all... And ...There is more, no doubt! ;)
P.S. The Sunday afterparty BBQ with the 'Alchemy' cast and crew and guests was an excellent occasion for proper chats and making further plans... And food! Loads of delicious food! Well, done, Mr. Nolan! :-) A perfect ending to a very rewarding week, indeed!
Report by Magdalena Grabias
Photos by Neil Palfreyman