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My Land's Shore
Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre
10th February 2017

★★★★☆

Kira Morsley and Rebecca Gilliland as Rebecca and Angharad

Photography © David Ovenden

Do you hear the people sing? Singing the songs of angry Welsh? Well, come over to Walthamstow and you will. My Land's Shore is a fictionalised account of a working class uprising during the 19th century, only set on the other side of the Channel Tunnel to "that" other musical. It follows the lives of several mining families, including big-hearted Richard Lewis (Aidan Banyard). Richard is engaged to Angharad (Rebecca Gilliland), a single mum who hopes that married life will cure her beloved of his unionist tendencies. Given he's a tall, strapping, shirtless miner who treats young Jonathan (Samuel Bailey) as his own, we know from the off that there's simply no chance of him not doing what he perceives to be the right thing. Lewis Lewis (Michael Rees) is even more hot-headed than Richard, which we know can't bode well for a happy ending for the two men if Les Mis is anything to go by.

While the comparisons are unavoidable, My Land's Shore fares pretty well on this front. With this the worldwide premiere, the music and lyrics by Christopher J Orton and Robert Gould don't have familiarity going for them, but they are catchy enough with a good number of reprises to cement their ear worm status. Although Gould's book is weaker than the truly superb music and lyrics, it still allows for some powerful moments, such as Angharad's inconsolable grief. As she clutches the dead, the guttural sound that escapes Gilliland's throat is part-scream, part-wail and completely primal. Instinctively, we ache for her character, feeling just how much pain she is in. It's impossible to fault the emotion in Gilliland's majestic performance; she is as gifted a singer as she is an actress. The other two "main" wives, Elizabeth (Emma Hickey) and Rebecca (Kira Morsley) harmonise with her to demonstrate the force of their feelings in I Know I Love Him, a melody with some hauntingly beautiful vocals.

It's hard to pick a highlight, but Raymond Walsh's Air For A Wise Celtic Fool is utterly mesmerising. Whilst Banyard's reprise gets a rather more enthusiastic reception the second time round, the first rendition by Walsh creates a hushed silence in which we dare not clap for fear of breaking the spell. It's far from a lack of appreciation. Walsh's slightly stunned expression as he sings of his tragic fate and stumbles around the stage sharing a heart wrenching melody with us is exactly the sort of performance that proves just how important supporting actors can be to the success of a show. Musical director Aaron Clingham and his talented orchestra (Janette Williams, Jade Cuthbert, Dominic Veall, Ashley Blasse and Becky Hughes) contribute to this evocative, ethereal and poignant moment.

The ensemble of My Land's Shore

Photography © David Ovenden

Iron master Josiah Guest (Hywel Dowsell) veers on the panto side of villainous, however bigger bad Jenkins (Taite-Elliot Drew), who is appointed to crush the workers by whatever means necessary, makes up for this with additional creepiness. Although Angharad and Jenkins' past is made clear by a knowing look, it is also illustrated graphically with a deliberately uncomfortable duet that leaves us pondering whether director Brendon Matthew has crossed a line. I'm not sure I have an answer for that, but the quality of the vocals, accompaniment and the sheer emotion in Drew and Gilliland's performances make me want to forgive the dubious decision if indeed it is one.

Joana Dias's wooden set is ambitious to the point of forcing us to crane our heads upwards to take it all in. It hints at what the company could achieve in a West End space and I'd truly love to see this transfer to a bigger venue and reach a bigger audience. Out of all the shows I've seen All Star Productions stage, this is the one that most screams "transfer". The stage carpentry allows the rich - Josiah, Jenkins and William Crawshay (Andrew Truluck) - to literally look down on the workers and their families. A noose is ominously suspended from the ceiling, a simple piece of design that provides heavy foreshadowing and warns us that a Disney ending is unlikely.

Usually you haven't heard of the musical staged by All Star Productions because it's a revival of something old, dusty and long-forgotten. This time, the name means very little because it's brand new. My Land's Shore may be a departure from the company's usual choice of musicals however it's a very welcome one. It's exciting, it's fresh, it's British and it's bloody brilliant with equal emphasis on the bloody and the brilliant.

My Land's Shore opened on 7th February and runs until 26th February 2017 at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Walthamstow Central (Victoria)



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