Union Theatre, London – until 10 September 2016
The 70s were a hotbed for edgy takes on musical theatre so it’s remarkable that some of the shows that have lingered with us the longest share a common source – the Bible. From the Lloyd Webber one two punch of the twee Joseph and the ballsy rocking Jesus Christ Superstar to Stephen Schwartz’s series of parables Godspell. It’s even stranger then when I realise Children of Eden is from 1991 as it shares so much with its predecessor.
Like Godspell, Children of Eden doesn’t follow a narrative across the two acts, instead we have essentially two stories united by a common theme. Act I takes us on the journey of Adam, Eve and their children and act II sees us board Noah’s ark, but the overriding theme is about putting our trust in tangible family rather than insubstantial spiritual guidance. It’s a nice idea that is hampered somewhat by John Caird’s incredibly clunky book that sounds like it was written for (and possibly by) children, but as with all Schwartz shows it’s rescued by lovely melodies.
Most of this young cast take on a variety of roles, both as constant chorus and various secondary or peripheral characters (or animals) we meet along the way, but Joey Dexter portrays the role of “Father” (God) throughout. Dexter seems a little young at first to be the creator but his mischievous, impetuous man-child is a nice spin on the part.
Elsewhere there’s very little character for actors to embody and Christian Durham’s direction struggles to bind such a loosely structured show together. Lucie Pankhurst’s choreography is largely kept simple, but there are some nice touches, such as when the cast form a serpentine body for Gabriel Mokake’s snake to tempt Eve. The real delight comes from the vocals though and when this cast sing it’s beautiful to hear. At first it felt as if they might be drowned by Inga Davis Rutter’s band but despite the acoustics of the space favouring instruments over voices the balance was quickly found. Among a group full of exquisite vocals the standout moment comes toward the end of act II when Natasha O’Brien’s Mama Noah lets loose on the gorgeous gospel-tinged ‘Ain’t It Good?’
In all then, this is a nicely performed show but the source material, and in particular the dire book, give the cast and creatives so little to latch onto that you’ll leave remembering little of the characters or the story. You might find yourself humming the tunes though…