The Ye Olde Rose and Crown pub Theatre in Walthamstow continues with its run of the not-so-popular musicals. This time, The Kissing Dance, a Howard Goodall, and Charles Hart’s musical. Based on Oliver Goldsmith’s comedy ‘She Stoops to Conquer’, the musical is a tale of mismatched love, matchmaking, disguise, confusion, and deception, laced with humour and comic misunderstanding.
Charles Marlow accompanied by his friend George Hastings, are 18th century Londoners. Marlow has been invited to the Nonesuch residence, somewhere in the English countryside, by Mr and Mrs Hardcastle with the intention of pairing him with their daughter Kate. Coincidently, Hastings happens to be the secret lover to Kate’s cousin Constance. However, they are fooled into believing that Mr Hardcastle’s house is an inn, mastered by Tony Lumpkin, who is Kate’s half-brother, and to be married to Constance. His intervention results in the Londoners visiting Hardcastle’s estate thinking Mr Hardcastle is the innkeeper. Secret affairs are revealed, missing family jewels cause distress, and general mayhem ensues until the sun finally rises again.
The cast is a strong ensemble, from large musical numbers to small intimate acting moments. Even when not in focus, all actors exuberate energy, which adds to the world they are creating and fully immerses the audience within the story, and of course, their vocal strength is undeniable.
Set and Costume designer Joana Dias, does a superb job of setting this playing world, simply with vines growing all around and Lattice Trellis panels positioned tactfully for good hiding areas, as well as the use of minimal furniture and props that are moved to change the environment. Simple, small and clever. Even the minor detail like the wood chips around all corners on the floor added another layer of immersion, which made it hard to deny the world of the musical. Of course this was accompanied by lighting and live sound, the collaboration maintains clear direction and all design aspects, complementing each other seamlessly. One moment that stays with you is during moonlight hours of the play, which calls for the performers to carry lanterns. Again this is clever and picturesque. Thanks to Sky Bembury, we feel the atmosphere during these moments because of the way they light in the dark, but also because of the way the performers holding these lights position themselves on stage.
The Kissing Dance is dynamic and carries a good pace; relationships are strong amongst the cast. From David Zachary’s (who plays Charles Marlow) ability to play a character with two opposite sides to himself, to Laurel Dougall’s (Mrs. Hardcastle), characterised as this small but powerful woman with opinions that must be heard. The strong relationships carry on to moments which were not in focus, but added so much to the world of the play; the interactions between Nicholas Chiappetta (Stingo) and Steven Dalziel (Roger), for example. Even at moments when they knock over props and hit the set, it is hard to argue whether it is a mistake or part of the performance.
Brendan Matthew’s direction and musical staging create dynamic images, through the use of levels and visual composition, especially when doing large ensemble numbers. There were several moments in which intention was clear, and sight lines were never an issue, even though it was a small intimate venue. Together with Aaron Clingham’s musical direction and Charlotte Tooth’s choreography, The Kissing Dance almost has a cinematic feel. It is very polished. My only concerns are the continuous entrances and exits through the door on the right side of the audience. This, at times, became too repetitive. The play also comes across as a really long production. I feel it holds many musical numbers, little dialogue to carry the story, and at times, songs get repetitive. In conclusion, The Kissing Dance at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre is superb in quality, definitely appealing to the older audiences. It is not a must see. Nonetheless, if you are about and feel like watching a musical, this is a good watch.