Home » Reviews » Musicals » Once We Lived Here, King’s Head Theatre – Review
Credit: Andreas Grieger
Credit: Andreas Grieger

Once We Lived Here, King’s Head Theatre – Review

Pros: A highly original and emotionally heartfelt musical which doesn’t shy away from tough themes.

Cons: In my opinion, this show would have worked better as a play rather than as a musical.

Pros: A highly original and emotionally heartfelt musical which doesn’t shy away from tough themes. Cons: In my opinion, this show would have worked better as a play rather than as a musical. As a venue known for its emphasis on nurturing new talent, it’s fitting that the King's Head Theatre in Islington is playing host to the UK premiere of the Australian musical Once We Lived Here. With previous award winning runs in Melbourne and a spell in New York under its belt, this latest production doubtlessly carries high hopes for all involved. Though admirable for the emotional…

Summary

rating

Good

This show offers an authentic message about life in the Australian outback but fails to deliver escapism.

User Rating: 4.9 ( 1 votes)
As a venue known for its emphasis on nurturing new talent, it’s fitting that the King’s Head Theatre in Islington is playing host to the UK premiere of the Australian musical Once We Lived Here. With previous award winning runs in Melbourne and a spell in New York under its belt, this latest production doubtlessly carries high hopes for all involved. Though admirable for the emotional and cultural authenticity of its themes, it remains to be seen if the show can find the same resonance and breakaway success as it has in its native Australia.

There is another unavoidable problem. Any musical theatre lover cannot fail to adore the smash hit Priscilla Queen of the Desert. In terms of pure entertainment value, it’s a show which set the bar for how great Australian productions can be. It’s a tough act to follow.

Once We Lived Here has an original storyline with a strong emotional core for the audience to invest in. This is a sympathetic exploration of personal struggles for identity and how they are constrained by familial ties to the land. The characters are well drawn and the performances are accomplished. The show is headed by a strong international cast, including Home and Away’s Melle Stewart in the lead role of the stubborn and lovelorn Amy McPherson. Arriving fresh and clueless from the city, Bellinda Wollaston plays her ditsy sister Lecy. Her brother Shaun (Lestyn Arwel) is an emotionally pained young man through whom the author sympathetically explores mental health issues. Then there’s Burke (Shaun Rennie) the wandering Jack the Lad love interest, and the kind but emotionally brittle mother Claire (Simone Craddock).

The production offers a strong sense of shared conflict too: after a tragic accident forces the McPherson family to make some tough decisions about the future of their farm, the three siblings go on a painful emotional journey to explore the legacy of their shared past. There’s good natured Aussie humour, poignancy and decent original musical numbers. The farmstead porch-front set design, complete with real sand, offers plenty of visual interest. The singing (particularly by Shaun Rennie) and the live instrumentation is great.

Despite all these points, Once We Lived Here fails to captivate and enthrall the way I believe musicals should. The story may be easy to relate to, but it feels a bit mundane. The journey the characters go on doesn’t offer the kind of escapism this reviewer craves. And the musical numbers are relatively long, lyrically obtuse and narrative driven – they don’t stand alone to captivate.

In fact the musical aspect felt somewhat incongruous, detracting from the sincerity of the writing and what could have ultimately been a better play than a musical. Where Priscilla offered emotional complexity plus ballsy glitz and exuberance, songs about a legacy of familial strife, grief, personal tragedy, and manual toil don’t quite sparkle in the same way.

Part of the problem was that, although the King’s Head is one of the best fringe theatres in London, in terms of acoustics and on stage action, this production really needs a bigger space to come into its own. The show’s premise is a good one, it just doesn’t quite strike the way it ought to.

Author and Director: Dean Bryant
Musical Director: Alex Beetschen
Producers: UpClose Productions
Box Office: 0207 478 0160
Booking Link: http://www.kingsheadtheatre.com/
Booking Until: 26th April

About Anna Croft Savva

Anna Croft Savva
Anna worked Front of House in a Glasgow theatre whilst studying for one of those four year education thingies in Journalism and Politics. Hailing from somewhere a bit north of Glasgow, moving to London was always the plan and she’s sticking it out until she can afford a wardrobe that’s at least 70% cashmere, and her own flat with sash windows. She hastens to add that she is not that avaricious, just a simple temp worker dreaming of a full-time writing job. Anna’s had stints in newspapers, interned for an MP and currently moonlights as a writer and reviewer
  • Slade

    Having seen this excellent production last night, I have to disagree with the reviewer. This is a gripping character led story driven by lyrical musical numbers which are far from being lengthy or obtuse.
    To expect every Australian musical to be another version of “Priscilla” is to stifle originality. Every country has its farming community where parents struggle with mother nature – drought in Australia, foot and mouth in the UK – and their offspring have the dilemma of following in parental footsteps or being lured to the city lights, then families dealing with the ensuing tensions.
    “Once We Lived Here” can stand tall with last year’s “Titanic the Musical” (hardly escapism knowing the ending in advance) at Southwark Playhouse and “Merrily we Roll Along” at the Harold Pinter.
    The acting was superb with everyone conveying the heat of the homestead down to Lecy, barefooted, walking on her heels to protect her feet from the hot timber of the front porch. The set was simple but clever with scene changes seamlessly interwoven with the dialogue.
    Having walked out of “From Here to Eternity”, “Once We Lived Here” kept me glued to my seat, and from the reactions of the audience I wasn’t the only one. This is a show worth deserting the West End to see.