The afternoon matinee show, performed by the understudies, was a truly unique event. It was the first chance for us all to watch 'Alchemy' performed by a different cast. In fact, not entirely different, since some of the principals, Victoria Bolley, Chris Lewis and Ross Andrews, were cast in different roles for the matinee, whilst Verity Smith reappeared on stage in her role of Jane Muncey. Thus, together with the Chorus, the show was full of familiar faces.
The role of Professor King, certainly one of the most demanding parts in the musical, was taken on by Ross Andrews, a Cheltenham theatre and TV actor, who was also cast in the role of Captain Farrell in the principal cast. As Professor King, he had a chance to reveal the whole spectrum of his considerable acting skills, which resulted in an interesting and credible character, received by the audience with fitting enthusiasm.
King's arch-enemy, Lord Henry Jagman, was played by Chris Lewis. Having created the delightful and terrifying character of Thomas Anzeray in the main show, Lewis undertook a difficult task of convincing the audience also in the role of a loveable scoundrel, so brilliantly performed by Andy Sears in the principal cast. Fortunately, Lewis did not fall victim to the beguiling temptation of imitating Mr. Sears. Evidently conscious of the challenge, Lewis succeeded instead in conveying a Clive Nolan’s literary vision of the part, whilst creating his own version of the character; a classy and believable villain. Spectacular performance!
Another highlight of the show was Victoria Bolley as a romantic lead, Amelia Darvas. And as in the case of her principal role, Bolley managed to express the intended ambiguity of the character, conveying both the warmth of a woman in love and fury of a revenge-driven warrior. Amelia's solo aria “The Girl I Was' was a delight as was the whole Bolley's performance. A feast for the eyes and ears!
King's companion and Amelia's love interest, William Gardelle, was played by Alex White. Alex, another Cheltenham musician, displayed his top class acting skills which, combined with Victoria's intelligent development of her character, resulted in an impressive performance from both actors. 'Street Fight' and 'Sanctuary' were among the most convincing moments, and Amelia's death scene was genuinely heart-breaking. Well, done, Mr. White!
Kate Aston-Williams tackled the demanding soprano part of Eva Bonaduce. I must say that the choice was very apt, and Aston-Williams did full justice to the role. It must have been particularly difficult to perform the role opposite Victoria Bolley, the original Eva. Kate proved to be a professional and she was awarded with well earned appreciation from the audience.
Verity Smith performed her role of Jane Muncey as masterly and intriguingly as ever, once more triggering a long round of applause for her “tongue-breaker” 'The Uninvited Guest'. Verity's duet partner, Paul Bantin as Ben Greaves, was very effective in portraying the perverse viciousness of Jagman's accomplice. Two very entertaining performances indeed!
Interestingly, Paul Manzi, the original Milosh from the 'Alchemy' CD and DVD, returned in this show as Thomas Anzeray. Another powerful performance, although with his almost-encyclopaedic look of rock'n'roll idol, Manzi was missing a bit of Chris Lewis' credibility and visual features one might expect from the role of a two-hundred-year-old alchemist. Nevertheless, you just have to love Manzi when he starts singing, no matter what role he is in.
The minor roles performed by Gloucestershire’s Ian Baldwin (Milosh), Katie East (Jessamine) and Jon Bailey (Captain Farrell) brought a lot of flavour and dynamics to the show. Baldwin's Milosh entertained the audience with a Cossack dance in the finale of 'Tide of Wealth'. Once more, we were treated to a very different approach to the character, distinct from both Manzi's and Paul Blower's version. Katie East as Jessamine sang 'Desperate Days' with charm and ease and, together with Jon Bailey as the sea Captain, the three actors contributed to the solidity of the whole performance.
Apart from providing a high level of entertainment, the matinee show was vivid proof that 'Alchemy' can exist perfectly well on its own, and be an equal delight with a completely different cast. All in all, a great testimony to the genius of the author and composer, Clive Nolan. Well done everybody!
Review by Magdalena Grabias
Photos by Kim Carter