Friday, December 9

The Addams Family – Crewe Lyceum

Acton Operatic Society’s ‘Addams Family’, which marks the end of their two-year hiatus from performing full-scale musicals, is being staged in the grandeur of Crewe Lyceum Theatre from Wednesday 2nd to Saturday 5th November, including a Saturday matinee.  

This quirky, comical musical has recently done the rounds with several amateur theatre groups in the North West recently. Therefore, I was intrigued to see how this society might put their own unique stamp on this production. Despite expecting to witness some ‘first night nerves’ on opening night, this certainly was not the case, and it was obvious from the outset that this was going to be a very slick performance. 

Ingeniously, on entering the theatre foyer, the audience members found themselves rubbing shoulders with an array of ghostly Addams Family ancestors. This immersive, interactive experience continued within the auditorium, where actors roamed the aisles and seated themselves among the audience. This was a confident move from Acton which set the tone for the evening and added another intriguing dimension to the normal theatrical outing. I noted that a small minority of actors broke character by inadvertently chatting with other cast members, however this did not hugely detract from the sense of mystery which this exercise evoked.  

The intricate ‘gothic’ stage set cleverly complemented the scrolled detailing of the Lyceum’s ornate mouldings, thus giving the impression of the auditorium and opera boxes being extensions of the stage. The multi-dimensional stage set and the auditorium itself were used to best effect to engage the audience with different characters appearing at different elevations on the stage and in the auditorium within the same scene. The scale of the scenery, such as the sweeping grand staircase, was particularly impressive, indicating that this was by no means a low budget production and reflecting the calibre of the creative team. It was refreshing to see a distinctive set which did not merely look like another overused replica.

The lighting was of an incredibly high standard and evidently no expense had been spared in setting the scene with an abundance of evocative candle lighting to further enhance the ghoulish atmosphere. The coloured mood lighting was used to good effect to alternate between time and location settings. The only negative was the positioning of the coloured strip lighting at the rear of the stage. The slightly tilted rows of bright LED lighting appeared to be positioned too low and thus were fully visible to audience members seated anywhere in the stalls. This was an unwelcome distraction and seemed wholly incongruous with the eerie, mock candlelight which had been so well executed. Spotlighting of characters was faultless throughout and strobe lighting created realistic and timely lightning effects.  

Sound levels were well balanced, no mic cues were missed and even from the back of the stalls (where I was seated), every word was audible and clearly enunciated. Deserved credits to both the cast and sound technicians. The blending of microphones during ‘Crazier Than You’ was commendable. This also gave depth and vigour to the vocals in big ensemble numbers such as ‘Full Disclosure’ and the finale.  

Special mention should be given to the impactful costumes in this production. When the whole ensemble gathered together on the stage, the magnificent array of Dickensian-style costumes combined with grotesque, ashen make-up and spectacular wigs was quite simply a spectacle to behold (credits go to Jo Stubbs, Sharon Ashton and Catherine Martin).   

This production was directed by Caroline Coles with musical direction from Treona Holden (assisted by Adam Whitehead) and choreography by Rachel Capper. When touching upon the musical direction, the challenges of working with such a large cast should not be underestimated. Blending and harmonising a diverse range of vocals in a cast of 40 to create a sense of togetherness and powerful ensemble numbers is no mean feat, but Treona Holden’s and Adam Whitehead’s accomplishment was demonstrable in this performance. Notably, Treona had strategically positioned herself, so her conducting was clearly visible to both the cast and the band. It was a joy to watch, especially during the finale. The sound clarity and accuracy were such that the vocals and music would have been indistinguishable from the official soundtrack.

There were some great directing tools within this show, for example Alice Beineke (Emma Johnson) breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience at the end of Act 1. Ensuring that the ensemble continued to ‘act’ when in the background of other big scenes’ was an important element of this production, demonstrated by Cory Levick-Jones attracting the audience’s attention during the dinner table scene in ‘Full Disclosure’. The children of the ensemble provided valuable comedic components combined with huge cuteness factor. Unfortunately, several actors blocking themselves and not opening themselves up to the audience as much as they could have done did not go unnoticed. 

The choreography was certainly eclectic and at times a fusion of several different styles, for example whacking and hip hop incorporated with jazz. Fast and intricate choreography with a large, mixed ability ensemble is not risk-free in terms of synchronisation and the risk paid off in the second act rather than the first. Dancers were discernibly more in unison during the second act numbers. However, credit should be given to Acton for tackling difficult, detailed choreography and delivering this with great confidence. The Latin-infused choreography between very debonair-looking Gomez and the seductive Morticia was visually stunning and set the tone perfectly. The slow-motion section during ‘Crazier Than You’ was also very well executed.   

Rob Earl (Gomez) stole the show from start to finish, with his suave demeanour and convincing Hispanic accent, which he did not let slip at any point. He depicted his character using just the right balance of comedy and charm; his vocal performances were delivered with ease.

The very elegant Debbie Cornock played the role of Morticia with great authenticity and certainly looked the part. Although the character of Morticia is rather emotionless by nature, I would have liked a little more light and shade in the first act, but this was much more evident in the second act where the audience were delighted by her gorgeous vocal tones and passionate dance moves.  

Chloe Parr as the eighteen-year-old Wednesday Addams was note-perfect throughout and showcased her amazing vocal ability, especially during her powerful rendition of ‘Pulled’. Although Wednesday is quite a reserved character physically, I would have liked to have seen Chloe embrace the large stage a bit more in some of her scenes and be slightly less static at times. Having said that, this in no way detracted from a great performance and I really enjoyed her interpretation of Wednesday. Her relationship with Lucas Beineke (Sean Clark-Wilkinson) was totally believable and the couple seemed like a natural pairing on stage. Sean’s singing talent is unquestionable, and his voice blended beautifully with Chloe’s.

Other notable, stand-out characters include Paul Birchall as the hilarious Fester. His smooth vocals during ‘One Normal Night’ evinced his strong vocal talent and he emanated the perfect balance of odd behaviour, gentleness and menacing looks. Emma Johnson as Alice Beineke gave an incredibly strong and confident portrayal of Alice’s journey from middle-class, middle-aged respectability to sexual liberation. Emma performed the role with total commitment and used physicality, facial expression and hilarity to carry of the craziest scenes in ‘Full Disclosure’ to perfection. Cory Levick-Jones was very credible as Pugsley, both physically and in terms of acting ability. Corey has a lovely purity to his voice and excellent diction.

This was the first time I have had the privilege of watching one of Acton Amateur Operatic Society’s shows and I cannot wait to see the next one. The visual appeal of this show was immediate, and the comedy elements were appreciated by audience members of all ages. Children particularly enjoyed the humour of ‘Grandma’ played so convincingly by the very entertaining Mary Bolide. The extra touches such as the ensemble mingling with the theatregoers were well conceived and well executed. The audience was engaged from the first scene to the last and one could not fail to leave the show humming and clicking one’s fingers! The Addams Family is playing at Crewe Lyceum until Saturday 5th November and is a true family-friendly entertainment which is sure to delight.

Reviewer: Grace Annabel

Reviewed: 2nd November 2022

North West End UK Rating:  ★★★★