I’m such a huge fan of all the wonderful work the New Wolsey Theatre does, and I feel so lucky to have them as my local theatre. Their efforts in supporting new work, diversity and variety is inspiring, and many other theatres should follow their lead. Times certainly do keep changing, and it’s great to see; but there’s still a way to go. I try to see as much as I can in their beautiful space, and I’ve seen many great productions there this year, and over the past few years. Therefore, when I heard of the brand-new musical The Season making its premiere here, I knew I couldn’t miss it.
The Season is a new musical by Jim Barne and Kit Buchan, and is co-production between the Royal & Derngate, Northampton, and New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.
The interesting thing with new musicals, is that you never really know what to expect. You read a synopsis and decide if you’re sold enough on those few words. Sometimes there may be teaser footage or interviews – but I tend to avoid them, as I enjoy the thrill of not knowing what to expect.
Quite simply, The Seasons tells the story of the excitable Dougal’s adventure from Ipswich to New York for his fathers wedding, except there’s a small catch – he’s never met his father. When he lands at JFK Airport on Christmas Eve, he’s greeted by Robyn, whose older sister is the one marrying Dougal’s father.
Dougal is high on life, thrilled to be in New York at Christmas and eager to meet his father on that special day. Meanwhile, Robyn is far more cynical and frosty. The duo seem to be the most unlikely of matches, but when the two are forced together for a wild weekend in the city that never sleeps, their adventure becomes a musical whirlwind of confession, frustration and maxing-out credit cards. But can opposites always attract?
What unfolds is a perfectly-crafted romantic comedy. Given that it’s a two-hander piece, it can be really tricky to get them right. It has to be tight and slick, and you are relying on two people to get a story across and keep an audience engaged for 2 hours – however, this show nails it. Given that it’s new and early days, of course there are small matters still being refined but the audience reaction is evident it’s onto a winner. Also, Tori-Allen Martin (Robyn) and Alex Cardell (Dougal) were just fabulous and ooze in charm and talent; I loved both their contrasts and chemistry.
I feel I should add that whilst set at Christmas, I love the way it doesn’t make you feel sick of the festive cheer. The clash of opinions between the two characters keep it interesting, and the way it plays out made me reminiscent of how Christmas plays part in the cult-classic musical RENT. It works well as the pre-Panto slot production, but I could see it still being a great one to watch in June.
To be honest, I can’t quite put my finger on why I loved it so much. To the point that I feel like I need to go back next week and see it again before it heads onto Northampton. That said, I think above all it was the relatability of the characters. I found parts of myself in both of them. We’ve all wanted for that something special to happen – and felt a little lost when it doesn’t go how we anticipate. We have people in our lives who love Christmas and those who loathe it. We’ve all yearned for that excitement of a new place and meeting new people, and for it to be meaningful. Both of their stories, emotions, and actions were all very human; and I think I sensed that feeling was mutual throughout the audience. Everyone was on their side, and wanted nothing but the best for them.
Writers Jim Barne and Kit Buchan were the winners of the 2018 Stiles and Drewe Mentorship Award – which celebrates the very best of emerging British song-writing talent, and I can certainly see why. I got to the interval and kind of wished there was a cast recording, as I was just falling in love with the songs; they were both heart-warming and hilarious, and definitely deserve to be heard.
I spotted they got a 4* review in The Times – and given that this is a completely new and original piece of theatre, and regional production, that is incredible. And I truly believe if given the audience and time to grow, it has great potential – even if only to become a seasonal touring favourite. There was just something about it that I loved that left a little spark in me. And I think Robyn’s endnote of her fortune cookie telling her “this time next year, you’ll be happy” struck a reminder that whatever we may be feeling right now will pass, and that who knows what could happen in a year.
I know this blog has been a little rough around the edges, but it’s been a while and that’s kind of what this show proves – life can be like that and it’s okay! But aside from telling you of this wonderful show, what I’m also trying to say is that if you’re passionate about theatre and you can; please support new theatre, new writing, new writers, small companies, your local theatres and if you’re near to Ipswich or Northampton then see this show. Take a chance on something new, for you never know what gem you may find. I hope The Season can continue to find great life, as I think it deserves it; but to get it, it needs support and it can only be done if we shout about these kind of shows, so here’s my shout!