Review: Flights at Omnibus Theatre

Flights by John O’Donovan, on paper, is a play about three men, who meet as they’ve done for years to mark the anniversary of their friend’s death. But it’s much more than that; this is a story about a time, and a place, and a generation of young Irish men who could have left, but somehow ended up not going anywhere. It’s a story about loss – of life, love, opportunity – but also about friendship and the bonds that can hold people together, for better or worse, against all odds and expectations.

Photo credit: Ste Murray

Liam was seventeen years old when he was killed in a tragic road accident on this night seventeen years ago. His old friends, Barry (Colin Campbell), Pa (Rhys Dunlop) and Cusack (Conor Madden), are disappointed to find they’re the only ones to turn up this year for his anniversary, but nonetheless decide to make the best of it – particularly since Barry is about to leave for London with his long-term girlfriend Roisin, and new dad Cusack is having his first night out in months. As they reminisce, it becomes clear that while the three men’s lives may have gone in different directions, the circles in which they move have changed very little. And though the cast consists of just three actors, and the action never leaves the run-down clubhouse where they meet, O’Donovan’s beautifully written script paints an intricate picture of a whole community that seems frozen in time.

This feeling intensifies all the more as each of the three steps forward at different moments to deliver a monologue in the voice of their dead friend. Through these, we can start to piece together what happened, and why, and feel afresh the tragedy of a young life wasted – but also to understand that it could have been any one of these men who was lost on the road that, or any, night. Back in the present moment, and none of them is completely satisfied with their lot: Barry is full of anxiety at the prospect of leaving town at last; Pa just found himself homeless and unemployed; and even Cusack, who seems to have it all, questions what he could possibly have done to deserve it.

Photo credit: Ste Murray

The play, directed by Thomas Martin, isn’t action-packed or fast-paced, but it doesn’t need to be. Instead it follows the evening almost in real time, allowing the story to unfold through the interactions of the increasingly inebriated friends. Some of these result in unexpectedly tender moments, particularly in Act 2, while others are exactly as you’d expect when three old school friends get together: drinking games, darts, drugs and banter are very much the order of the day. Colin Campbell, Rhys Dunlop and Conor Madden are universally outstanding, utterly compelling and convincing in every detail; their chemistry as an ensemble is spot on, and their individual performances spell-binding. And the production looks stunning, too – Naomi Faughnan’s set, lit by candles and littered with what we assume to be years worth of discarded cans, feels both literally and figuratively like a shrine to Liam’s fading memory.

A poignant and powerful piece of theatre, Flights will resonate most strongly with people – particularly men – who’ve experienced what it was like to grow up in a tight-knit rural community. For the rest of us, the play is an evocative portrayal of that experience, and much like its central character, it won’t soon be forgotten.

Flights is at the Omnibus Theatre until 29th February.

Review: Bugsy Malone at the Orchard Theatre

The Summer Youth Project at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre brings together a 100-strong community cast of young people aged between 9 and 19, who’ve had just two weeks to rehearse a show before taking to the stage and performing for friends, family and the general public.

Now in its seventh year, previous SYP productions have included Fame, Annie and Footloose, with last year’s Oliver! described by reviewers as “West End standard”. Does this year’s choice, Bugsy Malone, live up to its predecessor? You’d better believe it.

Bugsy Malone

Bugsy is a great pick for a project of this kind, because besides being a family-friendly show with some irresistible tunes, it also has a huge amount of speaking parts; the list of characters in the programme is a page long. As a result, the Dartford audience gets to enjoy a true showcase of the vast amount of talent to be found on our doorstep. Many of the characters only have a few lines, but that doesn’t stop the actors making the most of their moment – like Thomas Gill, who has us eating out of his hand as Babyface (a.k.a. “the star of Dartford”), or Charlotte Whyte, who sparkles in her brief appearance as the spoilt diva Lena Marrelli.

Bugsy himself is played by Reece Eastgate, who owns the stage with cool confidence and charm; I’ve no doubt he’s got a great future ahead. Joseph Warrilow is great fun as Fat Sam, the incompetent gang boss and nightclub owner, while Calum Page’s slick, ruthless Dandy Dan wouldn’t look out of place in a remake of The Godfather.

There are some fantastic vocal performances too, most notably from Hollister Jacob as wannabe singer Blousey Brown, and Olivia Clark, who not only has a beautiful voice, but on Saturday afternoon also proved her professionalism as she powered through Fizzy’s solo number, Tomorrow, despite some distracting sound interference.

I could name everyone… but we’d be here all week. Suffice to say, every single member of the cast gives it their absolute all, and knowing the short time they’ve had to prepare only makes the achievement all the more impressive.

Directed and choreographed by Richard Peakman, who’s worked on the last five SYP productions, with musical direction from Melanie Crouch, the show dazzles most in its big musical numbers, during which the entire cast fill the stage and auditorium with an irresistible energy and enthusiasm. The finale is particularly infectious, with neither cast nor audience wanting the show to end.

Unfortunately this review is coming towards the end of the three-day run (I was meant to be there for opening night but had a train disaster), but if you have time to grab a ticket for the final show tonight, I really recommend it. Colourful, energetic, funny and joyful (not to mention the most child-friendly gangster story ever written – imagine how much better the world would be if all guns just squirted cream instead of bullets), the production is a wonderful testament to the power of theatre to bring people together – and for those of us who are regulars, it’s a refreshing reminder of the pleasure it can bring to so many.

Bugsy Malone has its final performance tonight, 13th August, at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford.