The opening night of 'Alchemy''s run at the Jermyn Street Theatre was a resounding success, with the audience making it clear that they had been totally won over by the classy and professional presentation of Clive Nolan's excellent musical. Everything about the production tonight was high-quality, from the singing and acting of the protagonists to Ian Baldwin's expert direction and the lavish and imaginative sets and costume prepared by Natalie Barnett and her fellow designers. There are a lot of people behind the scenes who have worked hard to ensure that the presentation loses nothing in comparison with the bigger productions that are regularly staged only a short distance away, and they can all be proud of themselves - this delightful package punches well above its weight.
It was great to see the musical being played out in its natural habitat - the theatre - with the cast rising to the occasion to put in memorable performances. The atmosphere was gripping from that very first gun-shot, and the cast, who are possibly not all used to singing and acting to the accompaniment of a backing track, did an excellent job. It goes without saying that the performers assembled here sing well live, but their acting too was of a very high calibre: Andy Sears was magnificent and totally captivating as the villainous Lord Henry Jagman, while Agnieszka Swita's portrayal of the character of the tragic Amelia was superbly sensitive, combining bitterness, tenderness, resolve, and finally redemption in equal measures as the story demanded, all augmented by her beautiful singing. Matthew Ronchetti's Gardelle made a sympathetic love interest for her, and their interplay during Amelia's death scene (Clive is rather good at writing these, isn't he?) brought, I suspect, many a tear to the eye.
Clive's excellent Samual King gave us a very potent figure to look up to, part Van Helsing, part Holmes, and part mysterious Dr. Who figure - especially ambiguous at the story's ending; while Victoria Bolley also gave a stunning performance; her portrayal of the fiercely resolute Eva Bonaduce was more than just a supporting role, while her captivating rendition of the beautiful 'Share This Dream' is another tear-jerker, and definitely one of the musical's highlights, for me rivalling anything from the more well-known musicals by the likes of Rice and Lloyd Webber.
The supporting cast, some of whom were playing multiple roles, gave high-quality performances, especially the effervescent Verity Smith, who took over the roles of Jessamine and Jane Muncey, bringing her own undeniable panache to both parts, while Chris Lewis cut an imposing dash as the resurrected Anzeray. The songs are, as we know, uniformly brilliant, and just about all their deliveries tonight were spot-on, highlights for me being the aforementioned 'Share This Dream', along with 'Amelia', 'The Warning', 'Amelia Dies', 'Anzeray Speaks', and the jolly 'Quaternary Plan', which had the audience clapping and singing along with great gusto. The whole atmosphere of the production was potent too, especially the Newgate scenes, which had a very Dickensian feel, and the spectral reappearance of Amelia at the show's powerful climax, which on stage has taken on a delightful Giselle-like quality.
It was great to see the audience's applause growing progressively more enthusiastic and rapturous with each succeeding number, culminating in a triumphant and fully-deserved ovation at the end of the production.
We can all go banging on about the fact that, if there were any justice, both 'Alchemy' and 'She' would now be as well-known as the productions currently playing in the West End's major theatres; but of course, we know it's not going to happen in the short term. Clive shouldn't give up, though, because these shows have the necessary quality. Fashion is a fickle and cyclical thing, and the public's current preoccupation with contemporary urban culture won't last forever. These Nolan gems will one day claim their rightful place in UK's musical hall of fame. It's just a matter of time.
Review by Odette Swann (Classic Rock Magazine)
Photos by Neil Palfreyman