Rose Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames – until 13 August 2016
Guest reviewer: Andrew Milton
The Battle of Boat is a new musical from the National Youth Music Theatre. Set in a seaside town on the English south coast in 1916, the carefree happiness of a group of young children is short-lived as they find themselves discovering more and more about the First World War that is unfolding around them. Their initial response, to join the army, is thwarted as they are inevitably each rejected for being too young. There is one exception however as William, the oldest of the group (played by Jonty Peach), is enlisted and is sent to fight in France.
The tale is of the persistent attempts that the children make to do whatever it takes to help their friend and their country, with Ethan Lewis Maltby and Jenna Donnelly weaving powerful themes of rivalry, leadership and battle. As is the NYMT protocol, the cast and orchestra are entirely comprised of young artists ranging from 11 to 21. The youthfulness of the cast, and of the nation’s young generation lost to the Great War, serve to make the scale and impact of the musical even greater.
With such a strength of talent arrayed across both stage (and orchestra pit) it would be unjust to single out individual cast members. This is not to suggest that the piece lacks standout performances, rather the contrary. There is an infectious emphatic energy amongst the entire company that is tangible from the outset. Director Kate Golledge and choreographer Darragh O’Leary have combined to create some exquisite work both in scenes and songs; taking us from land to stormy seas in the blink of an eye. Golledge ensures that while the script demands a lot from the young performers, their natural innocence and raw juvenile energy is never lost. Alongside a demanding text Candida Caldicot leads the orchestra and company through Maltby and Donnelly’s emphatic score that is almost akin to cinema, such is its grandeur.
In the vast space that is the Rose, Diego Pitarch’s set sits comfortably, whilst at all times being scarce enough to leave ample space for the show’s controlled chaos that seems at times to overspill the stage’s edge. Illuminated trees and shadows that could in time serve for the ultimate game of hide and seek form the back drop to the piece, while four seemingly plain long wooden containers are used in every possible way under O’Leary’s genius and playful choreography.
From the epic company numbers to stunning solo moments, each line, note and lyric carries a punch. The company has the audience in the palm of their hand from the word go and under Golledge’s sensitive direction have the audience laughing along with their childish games just as effortlessly as they achieve immense empathy facing the emotional and physical challenges of their journey.
The Battle of Boat is an epic piece of musical theatre. Maltby and Donnelly have made a brave decision in focussing a story about war from the perspective and reactions of a group of children. Credit too to Jeremy Walker who has produced the show and who time and time again ensures that the NYMT’s quality and standard is nothing short of exceptional, across all departments. With only three performances remaining, the show makes a theatrical voyage that is well worth catching.
Runs until 13th AugustReviewed by Andrew MiltonPhoto credit: Matt Hargraves