Review: Ghost the Musical at the Orchard Theatre

When thinking back on classic movies from my youth, Ghost is one that I always tend to forget about. I blame Dirty Dancing for this, mostly; for some unfathomable reason, that particular Patrick Swayze movie always takes first place in my mind.

Which is a shame, actually, because Ghost is a great story, with a bit of everything: tears, laughter, life after death and good old-fashioned murder. And now it also has songs, thanks to Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, who along with the movie’s screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin adapted it for the stage back in 2011. Tonight was my second visit, having previously seen Ghost during its West End run a few years back – so how did Bill Kenwright’s new touring production compare?


On the whole, the show is pretty faithful to the movie, though a couple of big events get slightly rewritten to make them work on stage. A quick recap for anyone who doesn’t know the plot: Sam and his girlfriend Molly are building the perfect life together, until they’re attacked one night and Sam is fatally shot. Unable to leave while Molly’s still in danger, Sam enlists the help of the only living person who can hear him, fraudulent psychic Oda Mae Brown, to bring his killer to justice and say a final farewell to the woman he loves.

Tonight’s show in Dartford saw the debut of Carolyn Maitland in the role of Molly – and it’s fair to say she smashed it, with spot on vocals and a genuinely heartbreaking performance as Sam’s bereaved girlfriend (and she also remembers not to look at him when he’s standing right in front of her, which I imagine must be a pretty difficult thing to adjust to). Andy Moss, continuing in his role as Sam, has a slight tendency to overact during his musical numbers, and his vocals don’t always live up to those of his co-star – but the chemistry between the pair is touchingly believable, especially for the first night of a new partnership.

Oda Mae Brown is an absolute gift of a part, and West End star Jacqui Dubois seizes it with both hands. Like Whoopi Goldberg before her, there’s no doubt she gets all the best lines, and they’re delivered with perfect comic timing and a fabulously sassy attitude; it’s a shame we have to wait till well into Act 1 for her first appearance.

The score is actually better than I remember, and includes some really quite beautiful numbers, with Molly’s spine-tingling solo, With You, the absolute highlight for me. And of course no production of Ghost would be complete without Unchained Melody, which makes several appearances (and yes, they brought the potter’s wheel with them).

Photo credit: Matt Martin
Photo credit: Matt Martin

Where this production slightly falls down compared to its West End predecessor is in the special effects. Last time, I remember being left open-mouthed when Sam walked through closed doors, or someone who I just saw drop dead on one side of the stage suddenly appeared on the other, and I vowed to pay more attention next time to see how they did it. Apparently, in this production those mind-boggling effects have been stripped back so we can all focus more on the love story, and sadly what’s left is not as impressive. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still some pretty cool stuff going on – but let’s just say this time I could see the strings, and it slightly took the shine off.

That said, Ghost is still a great show and well worth a visit, especially if you love the movie. Get ready to laugh, cry, tap your foot and, best of all, join in with the cheesy dialogue (all together now: “Ditto…”) – then head home and curl up on the sofa for a Swayze double bill.

Ghost the Musical is at the Orchard Theatre until 21st January.

Review: The Memory Show at Drayton Arms Theatre

The Memory Show began life in 2008 as a thesis project for Sara Cooper and Zach Redler, both of whom had their own memories of seeing a loved one go through Alzheimer’s. And that may well be why watching this heartbreaking musical feels uncomfortably like intruding on a very private and intimate moment, between a mother diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and her daughter who reluctantly returns home to care for her. As their already tense relationship is put under ever greater strain, we’re presented with an unflinchingly honest view of the emotional and practical repercussions of caring for someone with this devastating condition, along with an exploration of the unpredictable nature of memory itself.

The Memory Show
Photo credit: Claire Bilyard (
And so there’s a song about cleaning the toilet, and another listing all the things that need to be done before the mother passes away. The daughter, forced to be endlessly patient with a parent who’s more like a child, doesn’t hold back about her complicated mix of emotions; she loves her mother, and despises her at the same time for all she’s had to give up. She wants it all to be over, but wishes that it could be possible afterwards to call her mother for a chat. Often speaking directly out to the audience as her only other human contact in an increasingly claustrophobic situation, she explains about difficulties with doctors, and confesses her fears about whether she’s doing the right thing.

But as hard as this blunt honesty is to watch, there are also some lovely, tender moments – as they sit together on the sofa looking at potential matches on a dating website, they could be any mother and daughter, rather than a patient and her carer. And the final scene is bittersweet, because we know that whether or not the two can mend their relationship, it’s still going to be too late.

The Memory Show
Photo credit: Claire Bilyard (
The relationship between Ruth Redman and Carolyn Maitland as the nameless mother and daughter is utterly convincing – the ups and downs, the bickering, the reminiscing – and both show flashes of the same feistiness. As they reflect on their difficult history together, one topic keeps recurring: Ira, late husband and father, who seems to be remembered very differently by the two women. One of them is remembering him wrong… but not necessarily the one we might expect – and the continued references to a ‘secret’ hold us in suspense until the truth is finally revealed.

The simply staged production, directed by Alex Howarth, finds the characters and audience confined within the pair’s living room, with a string of lights above their heads that illuminate during the mother’s brief, and increasingly rare, moments of clarity. Behind them, meanwhile, a white sheet provides a backdrop for flickering images from home movies, a haunting reminder of the life and happiness that’s slowly fading away.

The Memory Show paints a brutal picture of the horror that is Alzheimer’s, but it also leaves a powerful impression for those without direct experience of the disease. It’s a story of two people who learn how to love each other only when it’s too late, and encourages us to reflect on our own relationships, and the power of memory to make or break them. A heartbreaking show to watch, true, but still one that should be seen.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉