The job of reviewing theatre takes you to some interesting places, last night I was in the cavernous Lowry in Salford Quays with a 1,700 audience, this evening finds me in the more prosaic surroundings of a leisure centre in deepest Cheshire for the opening night of ‘Big Fish’. However, amongst the teenage judo classes and aqua aerobics, Mid Cheshire Musical Theatre Company (MCMTC) have mounted an ambitious and ultimately successful production of this little performed gem.
Edward Bloom (Joe Clarke) loves to tell tall tales to his son Will (Scott Heath); fantastical adventures where he met giants, kissed mermaids and was the hero who always got the girl. With his impending marriage to Josephine (Jennifer Haney) and the health of his father failing rapidly, Will starts to search for the truth behind the stories, is shocked at what he discovers but gains a greater understanding of his father’s life.
Edward’s stories transport us through his extraordinary life in a series of flashback tableaus which allow full reign for the creative team to fully realise the breadth of the original novel by Daniel Wallace. The music and lyrics in this adaptation by Andrew Lippa and John August move the narrative forward well and are given heart by some excellent central performances. As the evening progressed, Clarke bloomed (pun totally intended!), initially hesitant on this opening night he settled quickly, both the duet (Daffodils) and solo (How It Ends) providing real emotion at the end of Act One and at the conclusion. Aimee Clare gave the standout performance as Edward’s long suffering wife Sandra, naive and gauche in flashback and sympathetic as the older incarnation, her rendition of ‘I Don’t Need a Roof’, should ensure further awards for this accomplished actor. Excellent support in the featured roles of Amos Calloway (Michael Shneck) and Witch (Georgia Brooksbank) with Scott Heath strong vocally (Stranger & Be The Hero).
Director Louise Colohan has assembled a huge cast of thirty-three, using them freely to create large scale ensemble pieces that take us everywhere from the Circus to the wild west, illustrating the stories that Edward tells with colour and energy. The opening of Act Two (Red, White and True) was particularly hilarious, with a pastiche, star spangled tap number that was reminiscent of both Marvel’s Captain America and ‘Let Me Entertain You’ from Gypsy, in its choreography (Liz Cardall) and execution. The wardrobe team (Sue Hancock/Sarah Sherwood) are to be congratulated on the sheer volume and quality of the outfits on display, and the large ensemble work tirelessly throughout the evening.
This show highlights perfectly that the work and dedication of a strong production team can produce professional quality in an amateur environment. The twelve piece band (Ian Sherwood as MD) gave sterling support to the onstage talent covering a multitude of musical styles effortlessly, but it was in the technical areas that this was most noticeable. Many excellent amateur productions are blighted by poor sound, lighting and special effects, but MCMTC have assembled an excellent team (Lighting by Nicholas Field and Sound by Tom Maurice) that were superb in their execution of this underrated and necessary part of theatre. Special praise is reserved for the videography and projections of Simon Matthews, adding stunning visuals to the stories of Bloom, undoubtedly the best I have seen on an amateur stage in recent years.
Overall, this was an ambitious undertaking from a company that is unafraid to take on large scale challenges and well worth seeking out before it closes at the weekend.
Big Fish continues until Saturday and the last remaining tickets can be found at https://midcheshiremusicals.org.uk/
Reviewer: Paul Wilcox
Reviewed: 21st September 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★