Pros: A new fusion of British and Western unlike anything currently showing, with a strong multitalented band
Cons: The plot is erratic and overdramatic with few props and little set to aid it. Some of the jokes are distasteful
Queens Theatre, Hornchurch boasts a beautiful auditorium and a large, spacious stage. With a light-bulb lined border and giant, floating Dolly Parton head, it sure looks the part for a country musical. Unfortunately the band takes up most of the stage, leaving little room for scenery. This means that we are often left to guess at the whereabouts of the characters, or have to be spoon-fed the information through dialogue, which does little to help connect the audience to the story. That being said it is hard not to be in awe of the wonderfully talented band who perform as an ensemble, act, sing and play some well composed country tunes. The band includes composer Jo Collins, whose compositions for the show manage to be commercial and appealing to a wide audience, yet true to the tradition of country music.
Aside from the music, the plot feels very much like panto which, when combined with bold themes of abuse and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), feels uncomfortable. When aspects of the plot, such as love interest Jack’s PTSD, are developed, the music becomes much more powerful and the story truly gripping. However, with a number of major plot twists and extreme events, little time is devoted to exploring the emotions that these arouse. A true stand out in this production is Sarah Day, playing our Romford Rose herself; she provides incredible vocals, an endearing performance and, paired with Wade Lewin as Jack, shows off Rachel Yates’ choreography.
My main criticism of Chris Bond’s musical is there is too much thrown at the audience and it all becomes unbelievable and rather like a soap opera. It bounces from one dramatic event to another, without pause for reflection. Woven with Dolly Parton impersonations, the sudden introduction of hit-men and a very out of place (but most welcome) promotion of the Junior Doctors’ Strike, it all becomes too ridiculous to be taken seriously. This is ‘shock factor’ used to make sure that audiences don’t switch off. The storyline of abuse is explored very powerfully up until a song in which Sam Pay, playing the abusive father, tries to excuse his behaviour and provoke empathy. Though well sung and delivered by Pay, it is my belief that modern theatre should favour message over delivery.
The actors are enthusiastic, the music is original yet clear in its homage to country classics and the band are strong. The foundation and structure of the story need improvement, but there is plenty of promise here. Despite its overwhelming nature The Romford Rose is an enjoyable piece of theatre and a fresh example of a genre-hybrid, mixing British characters with Western conventions to produce something new and intriguing. I just wish it demanded more of itself.
Author: Chris Bond
Director: Chris Bond
Musical Director: Jo Collins
Choreographer: Rachel Yates
Box Office: 01708 443333
Booking Link: http://www.queens-theatre.co.uk/show/882/the-romford-rose
Booking Until: 18th June 2016