The Cheltenham Playhouse is packed and I'm sat near the front; in the orchestra pit the group of rock musicians sit, ready to begin. The lights dim and two figures stride onto the stage. The opening night of Alchemy has begun!
The production is written by Pendragon keyboardist Clive Nolan, who also adapted the book She into a progressive rock musical that was performed at the Playhouse a few years ago. Alchemy is a progressive rock-themed musical set during the Victorian Age and tells the tale of Samuel King and his race against time as he tries to stop Lord Henry Jagman from unlocking the darkest secrets of Alchemy. I had been following Alchemy's production and had enjoyed She when I saw it in Cheltenham, so when it finally arrived I was very eager to see the story unfold!
So was the show worth the wait? Of course it was! From beginning to end each of the actors played their part with great gusto and emotion. Unlike previous musical productions that I have seen that have the formula of keeping spoken parts and songs separate, Alchemy had a constant backing from the musicians and was almost entirely sung by the cast, similar to how She was performed.
The songs were both catchy and memorable, with every cast member in fine form. Several of the cast feature on the soundtrack CD, such as Agnieszka Swita (Amelia Darvas), David Clifford (William Clifford), Victoria Bolley (Eva Bonaduce), Chris Lewis (Thomas Anzeray) and Clive Nolan himself as Samuel King. They all stepped into the roles and acted out their parts perfectly. Joining them were several local actors such as Paul Blower (Milosh), Ross Andrews (Joseph Farrell) and Verity Smith (Jane Muncey) and many more, too numerous to mention, who also put in fine performances.
The music performed throughout the show was also fantastic, performed by by Mark Westwood (Guitar), Scott Hingham (Drums), Claudio Mombero (Keyboards) and Kylan Amos (Bass Guitar) who gave a strong backing for the actors to sing over. All of this served to tell the compelling story of Alchemy. The audience certainly enjoyed themselves; I could see a few people dancing to the music at various points in the show and a roar of applause greeted the cast as they came on to give their bows at the end!
Another aspect I enjoyed was the set pieces throughout the show, which managed to convey each scene's setting well. Whether it was at the gallows, in a tavern or on board a ship at sea, it felt like I was really there. I would have to say that the most impressive one would have to be the grand finale with its… well, spoilers!
Alchemy is currently being performed in Cheltenham, although most of the shows are now sold out. Hopefully it will be coming back as it is a terrific show that could definitely transition well to larger venues. And if you are one of those with a ticket for the upcoming shows, you're in for a treat!
Review by Ed Wilkins, Mad Hatter Reviews
Photos by Fernando Gomez
September 7, 2013