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A CurtainUp London Review
by Sebastian King
Set in 1920s Kentucky, the musical opens with our eponymous hero (Glenn Carter) setting off to explore a new entrance to Crystal Cave, underneath his family’s farm. In a particularly narrow tunnel, he dislodges a rock which falls onto his foot, leaving him completely unable to move. As his family and friends start a rescue operation, news of Floyd’s entrapment spreads and they find themselves at the centre of a media circus, while Floyd himself reflects on his situation, sharing moments of reflection with his optimistic and determined brother Homer (Gareth Chart), reporter ‘Skeets’ Miller (Ryan Sampson) and his sister Nellie (Robyn North) who has just been discharged from the local asylum.
Guettel’s ambitious score draws heavily on the bluegrass music of its Kentucky setting, and the marvellous on-stage band includes a banjo, harmonica and cowbell. However, it also takes us down unexpected twists and turns, at times echoing Stravinsky and Sondheim, the latter of whom once said that Floyd and Homer’s Act 1 finale ‘The Riddle Song’ is one of the songs he wishes he’d written – high praise indeed! There are sumptuous complex harmonies in the full-company numbers, and a recurring yodelling motif sung by Floyd is particularly evocative.
As Floyd, Glenn Carter exudes a certain amount of charm and charisma, but at times his performance doesn’t quite reach the audience. However, the show is carried by a universally strong supporting cast, with Robyn North’s lost-soul Nellie and Ryan Sampson’s exuberant Skeets particularly standing out, and a trio of reporters (Roddy Peters, Vlack Ashton and Dayle Hodge) bring some much needed comedy with their Act 2 opening number. However, it is Gareth Chart’s Homer that drives this production, and his duets with Carter give the show some of its most moving moments.
James Perkins’s resourceful set uses boxes, platforms and ladders to create a network of underground tunnels, and Sally Ferguson’s stunning lighting takes full advantage of the vast railway arches behind the stage, which seem to stretch for miles. The Vault has a tricky acoustic and unfortunately the sound balance in this instance was not quite right. From where I was sitting, the eight-piece band often threatened to drown out the singers, and a great deal of lyrics – particularly in the first half – were very difficult to hear.
At its heart, Floyd Collins is a touching portrait of an ordinary family, whose lives are changed forever by tragedy. This production may have its flaws, but its strong cast and remarkable setting still provide a rare and exciting opportunity for an audience to experience this haunting and challenging musical.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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