Presented by Briggs and Heaysman Theatre Co.
Reviewed 27 January 2016
To some, amateur theatre brings to mind a series of well-meaning beginner performers who are ‘having a go’ on a stage decorated with makeshift costumes and sets thrown together on a shoestring budget. For the most part in Adelaide, this is not true as amateur companies strive to mount productions of increasingly professional quality. Unfortunately Matthew Briggs and Joshua Heaysman’s new, original musical, The Angel of Death, falls within the former category – although it is not without potential.
The story follows a sixteenth-century farmer, played by Theodore Girgolas, who is murdered and, as a result, fills the recently-vacated role of the Angel of Death. As he attempts to come to grips with his new job, he seeks revenge for his murder and tries to protect the surviving members of his family. All of this is set within a larger story surrounding a satanic feminist cult and the impending invasion of the Spanish Armada to London.
Writing and mounting an original musical is a mammoth task and the creators should be commended for the love and effort that has clearly gone into this production. That being said, the show – with a book by Briggs and a score by Heaysman – is in need of some work.
Multiple story threads flow in and out making the exact point of the show difficult to identify. Characterisation is also not strong as motivations shift, change and go back and forth seemingly at random. Setting was also an issue as modern references fit poorly with the 16th century setting.
That being said, Briggs’ writing does provide the occasional laugh – even if it was from well-worn material – and there are some nice elements of pathos in the story. A better balance between comedy and drama however would have made the show more interesting.
Heaysman’s pop-rock score is boppy but repetitive, preferring to rely on recurring refrains over story or character development. His writing was strongest with emotional ballads; particularly Run and Hide and You Can Do It and these do show promise for better things to come.
Sound issues made the music difficult to decipher but Heaysman’s score appeared to be heavy in guitar and piano – greater instrumentation could make the score more engaging. What the authors have created is not terrible and, with the right editing and better cohesion, a more enjoyable product could be created.
The production itself is similarly well-meaning but struggles in several areas. Wide gaps in the singing, dancing and acting ability of cast members can be jarring but they are clearly all dedicated and excited to be a part of the project.
Kimberley Jones as Queen Elizabeth I is the clear standout with a strong voice and clear characterisation. The show’s ingénue Michelle, played by Carolina Fioravanti, also performed well with strong singing and acting. As The Angel of Death, Girgolas also has consistent characterisation but lacks colour to his performance and singing. In smaller roles, Natalie Hockley and Nicholas Miotti had solid comedic timing and Maddison Sales sung well. The largest issue with these performances is the extremity of their acting, almost leaning towards melodrama. This situation is not helped by Briggs’ very basic direction engaging simplistic blocking and clunky stand-and-sing delivery.
Ashlee Skinner’s choreography is also lacklustre although this may be due to the varying ability levels of the cast. The movement is simple, repetitive and is not always well performed by the cast. Feminist-Satanist Theories featured the strongest choreography which was hampered by poor performance from some cast. The solution of adding herself to dance numbers is understandable but comes across as awkward.
Set and props are simple but functional, adding enough variety to easily distinguish between locations. Set changes, completed by the cast, were slow and would have benefited from further drilling and practice. Lighting was similarly simple but more variation could have better complimented the mood onstage.
The writers are obviously keen to further develop their show, as within the program there were requests for feedback and hopefully the show will utilise and benefit from this input. A large portion of the issues with this show largely come down to inexperience as the writers test out their material. With perseverance and further hard work The Angel of Death definitely has potential for greater things but, unfortunately, in its current state cannot be suggested.
Reviewed by Nathan Quadrio
Venue: The Bakehouse Theatre
Season: 26 January to 30 January 2016
Duration: 2 hours 30 mins
Tickets: $13 – $23