The Other Palace, London – until 12 August 2017
“Never Leave A Man Behind” is the pact made at the very start of Imaginary. A simple declaration of trust, loyalty and friendship that is in many ways lies at the core of this endearing zany, and almost Pixar-esque musical, a show that marks the 2017 return of the National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT) to London’s The Other Palace.
Creating good new musical theatre continues to be a challenge across the industry, but Timothy Knapman and Stuart Matthew Price can be deservedly proud of their achievement. Knapman’s book and lyrics indulge in glorious wit and charm, complete with thrilling revelations and even the odd cliff hanger. Price has written an equally dreamy score, with melodies that you can’t help but find yourself whistling all the way home. Under Shaun Kerrison’s direction the NYMT company (ages 11 – 23) rise to the challenge of putting on a new musical with apparent ease. Kerrison captures the natural energy of the youngsters at all the right moments, yet never loses sight of the show’s clarity.
Imaginary follows the friendship of two young boys, Milo (Tom Price) and Sam (Josh Gottlieb). As Sam’s only friend the pair do everything together, playing all day and letting their imaginations run wild. It all seems too good to be true until Sam starts secondary school and he and Milo find themselves facing a whole new dilemma.
Aged 13 and 11 respectively, Price and Gottlieb turn in compelling performances that drive the show’s sense of adventure and discovery from the start. Their energy makes the piece a rollercoaster for audiences, played out against a backdrop of the universally recognized concepts of imagination and childhood. There’s some great work too from 11yo Lizzie Wells, whose Alice is critical to the plot.
Alongside the child characters, Robin Franklin as the school’s Headmaster commands both his students and the stage with a frightening presence and character. Toby Turpin also delivers a dazzling performance as the 7ft (!) tall Big Brenda, giving a performance that’s even bigger than his colossal outfit and wig (costume credit: Jason Denvir)
The tunes are gorgeous with She Played Guitar, Imaginary, The Adventurers Code and Upgrade Time all proving equally wonderful numbers, the latter in particular featuring some stylish choreography from Anthony Whiteman. Among the entire cast there isn’t a weak link, with Charlie Ingles having done some cracking work, both on the ensemble’s harmonies as well as the score’s orchestrations.
At a time when many producers struggle to bring new writing to a stage, yet again the NYMT’s Jeremy Walker delivers just that. Both book and score are tremendous and if last night’s audience are anything to go by, Imaginary will be bringing about tears of laughter, sadness and just sheer awe at this company’s remarkable talent.
Runs until 12th AugustReviewed by Josh Adams