Pros: Brilliant performances by the entire cast and an exquisite and hauntingly beautiful score.
Cons: The rather out-dated story makes the play hard to engage with.
It’s 1958, and war-torn Britain is slowly getting back on its feet. In a small village in the Lake District, stationmaster Thomas Price lives his life in peace and quiet, his routine of setting signals and assisting travellers rarely disturbed unless he is called to judge the local Victoria sponge cake competition. Then a young woman distracts him momentarily, and his life begins to unravel.
The Stationmaster is the headline musical of the third From Page to Stage season, which showcases new musical theatre at the Tristan Bates Theatre. Written by Susannah Pearse with music and lyrics by Tim Connor, The Stationmaster was inspired by Harvath’s play Judgement Day. Initially, it’s fun and playful, but it becomes increasingly dark and sinister. Thomas (given both charm and a dose of creepiness by Nigel Richards) is the pillar of his local community, an upright and proper man, beloved by everyone despite his marriage to a slightly unconventional wife. When the flighty, bored Anna (Emily Bull) arrives on his platform and kisses him for fun, Tom forgets to set a crucial signal which precipitates a terrible collision. Anna convinces him to cover up his mistake, and the sole witness of the scene, Tom’s wife Catherine, is ignored by the townspeople.
The musical boasts excellent performances by the entire cast, who bring the 50s town to life. Nigel Richards has a wonderful voice, and my favourite part was the opening scene in which he proudly shows off his work as the stationmaster. Jessica Sherman as Catherine gives an edge of desperation to her complex character, and Annie Wensak as the busybody Mrs Deakin provides some great comic relief. The score is beautiful and moving, and, at the piano, musical director Caroline Humphries was a real delight to watch and listen to. I also thought the lighting was very well done, and gave the simple but effective set a real atmosphere.
For me, the story, for all its charm, is slightly out-dated. Of course the overarching theme, taking responsibility for one’s actions, holds true for any society and time, but aren’t we over stories whose core consists of a woman distracting a good man from his work – and then convincing him to overcome his moral convictions? I couldn’t really come on board with the idea that one man’s temporary forgetfulness should imprison him, nor did I quite believe in the second, monstrous accident that this unlucky man causes. I therefore found it quite hard to engage emotionally with the story, despite the brilliant performances and lovely score.
Writer: Susannah Pearse
Director: Bronagh Lagan
Music and Lyrics: Tim Connor
Box Office: 020 7240 6283
Booking Link: http://tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/from-page-to-stage–the-stationmaster-headline-musical
Booking Until: 15 November 2015