In what is the second collaboration from British writing team Webborn and Finn, Animus delivers a cleverly constructed plot including complex characters and a chilling mystery that keeps one guessing.
I loved the Michael Webborn and Daniel Finn musical when I saw it premiere at the Landor last year and whilst we wait patiently for a cast recording (I asked Santa again and I have been a good boy this year…), this felt like an ideal opportunity to revisit the show, appropriate too as Webborn is an alumnus of this very institution.
Landor Theatre, London
Written by Michael Webborn and Daniel FinnDirected by Robert McWhir
As Carrie The Musical closes in Southwark, so another show about a misunderstood young woman, who’s blessed with supernatural powers, opens south of the river. But where Carrie was the re-imagining of a classic modern horror story, The Clockmaker’s Daughter in Clapham’s Landor Theatre is a boldly written new fairy tale.
There are hints of Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz and Howard Goodall in the music as we learn how many years ago clockmaker Abraham made himself a clockwork young daughter named Constance (geddit?) to replace his young dead wife. Notwithstanding the potentially “mechanically incestuous” complications that the scenario suggests (and which need to be ironed out in the inevitable future re-writes), the very best of fairy tales, on close examination, are all horror stories and there are distinct nods to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a starting point for this fable. We see Constance, like Dr Frankenstein’s creature before her, learning to reason and to feel emotions and going on ultimately to be shunned by the world around her.
The plot is simple – and as Constance goes around the village performing acts of kindness, she represents a wholesome focus for the story to pivot upon. Her craving a human mortality only adds to the story’s poignancy and with the inclusion of an appropriately boo-worthy villain, the show offers some gorgeous potential.
That this story works at all is largely due to the outstanding performance of Jennifer Harding in the title role. Robert McWhir has coaxed from her a subtly portrayed reality that convinces us of her soulless plight. Her robotic movements are just right, not too pronounced and Harding’s gold-painted face defines her as being not of this world. Her singing is gorgeous too, making fine work of her big solos A Story Of My Own and the climactic Clockwork.
Jo Wickham hams it up magnificently (though she could shout a bit less) as the wicked Ma’ Riley, out for Constance’s downfall, Alyssa Martyn convinces as a charming young bride Amelia, whilst elsewhere the large company numbers again demonstrate Robbie O’Reilly’s ability to achieve impressive ensemble work in the Landor’s compact space, with both Keep It To Yourself and Market Day being cleverly staged numbers that were easy on both eye and ear.
David Shields’ stage design works wonders with a set that’s a combination of trucks, projections and ingenious contraptions and credit too to Richard Lambert’s lighting work that for the most part enhances both ambience and location.
This ain’t the finished product yet, but it’s a damn good work in progress. The show needs to lose at least 30 minutes and its script would benefit from some expert treatment too. But make no mistake, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a charming show that celebrates the ingenuity of today’s new writing – it’s fun to watch and a bit of a tear-jerker too. This wonderful story deserves a future life, possibly as a Xmas show somewhere or who knows, possibly on screen? There’s enough potential in the story to hook even the most Disney-fied of today’s audiences and I wish it well.
Runs until 4th July 2015