Pros: A well written and composed musical with a flare of a Jane Austin Romance.
Cons: Couldn’t hear the actors over the musicians. They needed to have microphones.
Are we the masters of our fate? Or just pawns in the greater scheme of things? These questions are tackled in Fiona Ho’s musical The Girl in the Blue Coat. Set in the Victorian era, during the tumultuous 1840s, social inequality marches hand in hand with gender inequality.
The catalyst for the action is a blue coat, a highly fashionable blue coat that carries with it the hopes and aspirations of young Abbie Pollin (Lauren Potter). For Abbie the coat represents all that she is striving for: love, position, and an easy life. Her cousin, Beth Pollin (Emily Calderwood), is a bit more grounded than the flamboyant Abbie. But both reach for a love that is barred from them. For Abbie, it is reaching for gentleman who is above her station; and for Beth, her heart is stolen by one of her father’s workers. The trouble begins when Lauren Potter’s Abbie is mistaken for the desirable Frances Lovill (Georgia Thomas) who owns the same blue coat. In the end, Abbie is caught in a hard spot as she is forced to marry the old and rather licentious Farmer Lovill if her Mr. Winwood (both played by Patrick O’Sullivan) doesn’t return. Her cousin, Beth, is trapped in a reverse situation, where her father wishes to take her away to Australia, which would tear her away from her worker boy, Jon Smithson (James Wordsworth).
This musical had the flavour of a Jane Austin tale or even Oscar Wilde. There are plenty of comedic moments, such as the carriage ride with Abbie and Mr. Winwood, and Farmer Lovill’s song about enjoying the young ladies. “Proper” English sayings were interspersed with the language and accents of the working classes. This, along with the period costumes, really set the tone for the piece. The rest of the set had to be filled in with the imagination, as there was minimum space for any props or background setting.
The music and lyrics were written by Fiona Ho, who adapted this story from Thomas Hardy’s Destiny and a Blue Coat. A keyboard was joined by a cellist and flautist to create the sound of the story. It was charming and upbeat, and had the typical sound of a musical.
Sadly, the musicians drowned out the singers for most of the performance. All the musicians had microphones but the actors were not mic’ed. This made it difficult to actually hear what the actors were singing. Out of all the actors, Peter Moore, who played the workingman Harry O’Conner, had the greatest projection. The other actors had lovely voices but they needed to project more in order to understood. I found myself leaning forward and watching their lips in order to catch what they were saying. And if they turned away from the audience it was almost impossible to hear them at all.
The Hen and Chickens theatre space felt too tight for the actors, especially as the musicians took up a sizeable portion of the stage. A couple of times I could hear something falling back stage, and once, one of the actresses’ skirts caught the cellist’s microphone.
As a whole this musical was entertaining and well done despite the limitations of the stage. Next time it would be nice to see it in a larger space and have the actors mic’ed in addition to the musicians. The Girl in the Blue Coat will be playing at Hen and Chicken’s pub theatre until August 17th.
Director: Fiona Ho and David Bignell
Producer: Fiona Ho
Booking Until: August 17 2014
Box Office: 020 7354 8246
Booking Link: https://cam.tickets.red61.com/performances.php?eventId=3113:300