Sunday, July 14

Longitude – Upstairs at the Gatehouse

There seems to be no story which cannot be made into a musical nowadays. The fascinating history of the struggle to devise a marine navigational aid to accurately measure longitude is the latest, in a new musical written and produced by Kaz Maloney.

The story focuses on John Harrison, the northern carpenter and clockmaker, who responded to the Board of Longitude’s appeal in the early 1700s for solutions to this navigational dilemma, which was causing the loss of thousands of lives at sea. For the most part, the narrative of the story accurately follows John Harrison’s story and his interactions with the Board, who were made up of well renowned establishment figures of the day.  The style of the production was an interesting contrast between the more or less realistic portrayal of the Harrison family and their struggles, and a caricature of the Board members, who were portrayed as antagonistic to the idea that a working-class man could come up with a solution to such an intractable problem.

Almost all the story was told through the 22 songs with lyrics which were rhymed very effectively. There was a limited amount of spoken dialogue. Nevertheless, the story came through clearly. The music composed by Kaz Maloney, David Maloney and William Godfree was pleasant to listen to, although generally lacked a foot tapping beat. The singers were accompanied very professionally by James Kleeve on the keyboard and an unseen Doug Grannel on double bass, who for some unaccountable reason was hidden behind a curtain.

All nine members of the cast, some of whom doubled in various ways, were excellent and accomplished actors and singers. I was surprised that they wore mikes in such a small area as the Gatehouse’s performance space, but there was no distortion and every word could be clearly heard. David Phipps-Davis in the role of John Harrison had a very fine singing voice and created a realistic presentation of the clockmaker. He was well supported by Claire Russell as his loyal but long-suffering wife.

There was a real contrast in the style of the Harrison family who were costumed, if not exactly realistically at least as a reasonable representation of the 18th-century, and the frankly bizarre costumes of the four members of the Board of Longitude. The Board and particularly the Rev Nevil Maskelyne, astronomer Royal and rival for the longitude prize, were cast as the villains of the piece. Maskelyne was played by Alex Lyne in a style which could have been drawn from a Victorian melodrama! The contrasting styles worked well generally, except for the scene involving King George III, which was funny, but farcical bordering on pantomime.

This is a very entertaining production. It tells an important story in a way that has not been told before and I hope that it will be performed in other venues once its  run at the Gatehouse has finished.

Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd

Reviewed: 14th June 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.
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