When We Built A Rocket Ship

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

The Oldham Theatre Workshop is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary, and what better way to celebrate than by going on an adventure, When We Built A Rocket Ship is exactly that, a celebration of adventure and just how far your imagination can take you.

Opening in 1968, we are introduced to a group of childhood friends who meet up in a secluded woodland setting: they have a den, they each have each other, and they have a place to let their imagination run free: there are battles with pirates, encounters with mermaids and sea monsters, and later even an appearance from Charlie’s Angels. Accompanying the gang on the journey is a troop of forest friendly sprites who are always there to lend a hand.

With imagination knowing no limits, the gang decide to embark on an adventure into out-of-space: an adventure that will span 50 years and see them go through personal heart ache and tragedy, with the only constants being their friendship and the group’s haven.

As we go from decade to decade with the group and whilst struggling with the cruel blows that life can send their way from time to time: however, with every one of them knowing that they have each other’s back and no matter what happens they will face each problem together.

This is an ambitious, smart piece of musical theatre that is heavy on the feel-good factor, and has something for everyone: catchy tunes, an engaging story we can all relate to and a heavy dose of nostalgia.

With a cast boasting over 40 actors they all work their socks off throughout, especially during the exceptionally well-choreographed dance routines. The costumes are outstanding, especially on the forest elves: there is more than a wink to the lost boys from Peter Pan, the forest setting looks fabulous and has everything you would want for a secret hideaway.

The production is not without its flaws: Act 1 and 2 are slick and engaging whereas the final act felt a little laboured. There is a huge dramatic event that has is front and centre to the narrative and when this is first broken to the audience it isn’t done with the magnitude it fully deserves.

In addition, there were a few notable mis-queues and mis-steps which were quite distracting, although these may be down to opening night nerves.

Overall this is an entertaining and rewarding piece of theatre and the perfect birthday celebration for the OTW: with such a young talented cast, the OTW can go from strength to strength and we can all look forward to 50 more years of success.

When We Built A Rocket Ship is on till July 28th tickets are available here.

 

 

The Visitor’s Book

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Written by Sarah Nelson and Oldham Theatre Workshop’s Artistic Director James Atherton. New Musical The Visitor’s Book is an uplifting exploration on the impact of loss, abandonment and ultimately the importance of family and forgiveness.

Mum (Sophie Ellicott) holidays annually with children Jack, Sophie and Betty at Cathy’s (Jo Gerard) Cumbrian cottage. A sanctuary away from the city with clean air, green fields and an endless supply of fresh brews in the pot, problems however travel too and tensions soon rise as grief and confusion take hold.

Eldest in the family Jack is desperate for answers, a chance discovery however leads him to search for something else entirely when a strangers message in the Visitor’s book captures his imagination, offering a much-needed focus for his grief.

The play spans several years with scenes and stories beautifully interwoven. Younger and older versions of the children seamlessly move in and out of scenes as lies are uncovered and truths are told. The static set, a cosy living room within the holiday cottage allows the cast to move freely from one scene to the next, often inhabiting the stage at the same time to great effect. Slick direction ensures the clear narratives develop at just the right pace to both engage and entertain.

Sarah Nelson and James Atherton’s excellent writing ensures each character is entirely believable, from the moody teenager to the ‘holding everything together’ Mum to the baby of the family who entertains and amuses with her adorably quirky ways. There are many laugh out loud moments, moments you’ll entirely relate too as well as moments you’ll be gulping away the lump in your throat.

In Hope Mill’s intimate space there is no room for error and this hugely talented cast demonstrate superbly just how powerful and incredibly entertaining honest and heartfelt theatre can be. Each and every cast member giving their all.

Sophie Ellicott delivers a strong performance as Mum, warm and loving she embodies the role perfectly. Young and older Jack, Tommy Douglas and Jabez Sykes are both exceptional as anger and frustration is channelled into hopeful determination. The score is excellent allowing for some beautiful harmonies wrapped up in incredibly well observed lyrics delivered note perfect by the cast. Madeleine Edmondson and Poppy O’Brien shine performing their hilarious duet, big voices and even bigger personalities.

The Visitor’s Book is ultimately a story of hope, forgiveness and the real importance of family. This hugely entertaining production has the ability to both touch you deeply and entertain you enormously. Full of heart, deeply moving, beautifully told and superbly delivered, a joyous success.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Friday 11th May, tonight’s performance is SOLD OUT but follow @Visitor_Book and @OTWOldham for further information.