A few years back my partner decided that, en route to a weekend in Bristol, we would take a detour to a hill in Gloucester. Not just a hill, more of a vertical drop. Every year a bunch of foolhardy locals and naive tourists throw themselves down the hill after a wheel of Double Gloucester, finding themselves in the arms of the local rugby team at best, and on a stretcher at worst. Despite assuring me he wouldn’t be taking part, we bumped into some Canadians on the way and before I knew it, I was guarding their bags and ciders as they all headed to the top of the hill. It’s truly an insane thing to do, but I must admit I was absolutely thrilled to hear that there was a musical about this quirky English tradition.
Seize the Cheese knows it’s silly, but with this foolishness comes real heart, delving into the reasons behind these foolhardy leaps off a hill after some cheese. There’s a couple struggling with fertility issues, a man who’s afraid of everything, a pair of best friends who’ve just slept together and are navigating the consequences, and a young woman struggling to convince her mum she’s strong enough on her own. The show delves into all these stories with sensitivity and gives each plot a chance to shine.
But, behind the tales of the trials and tribulations of the competitors, comes pure comedy in the form of The Keeper of the Cheese, played with a mix of knowing hilarity and earnestness by Cathy McManamon. She acts as the narrator for much of the performance, but there are some charmingly bizarre moments of mystical energy added to the show. The spirits of the hills and the magic bestowed on the Keeper of the Cheese are strange to witness, but somehow capture the heart of this crazy tradition.
One of the comedy highlights comes from Travis Wood, who plays the cheese itself. The show tips into absolute insanity at this point, and you can sense the audience either roar with laughter or sit in bemused silence. It was quite a sight to behold, and his song “The Tears of the Cheese” was one of the show’s many highlights.
Another high spot was “Hold Me Some More” which saw the vocal performance of the night from Rosie Zeidler. Although the entire cast gave strong performances, it is Zeidler’s powerful rendition of this song that sticks in the mind and which gave a moment of relief from the show’s wonderfully strange plot, with a classic romantic ballad.
The songs, by composer Patrick Steed, are a real delight. It’s sadly not that often that a new musical leaves you with an ear-worm, but “Seize the Cheese!” followed me all the way home. The pacing is also excellent, at two hours with an interval the show never has a dull moment, with musical variety and the range of stories easily keeping us engaged throughout. The choreography is ingenious, particularly in such a small space, with depictions of the competitors running down the hill both impressive and slightly terrifying from the front row.
On hearing that there was a musical coming out about the Gloucester cheese rolling, one might be inclined to think “really, will they make a musical out of anything?” When in fact I encourage you to Gouda it a go, don’t Brie a cynic, and roll with the utter joy of watching a man strut around a stage, dressed as a Double Gloucester, singing about why he’s so undervalued. Really, what more could you want?
Book and lyrics by Mike Stocks
Music by Patrick Steed
Directed by Mike Stocks
Choreography by Kiren Virdee
Seize the Cheese! A New Musical is at The Studio, New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 11 November. Further information and bookings can be found here.