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REVIEW:
Pencoweth – Music is Life Productions The Rondo Theatre

Writing a play is not an easy task. Let me just make that clear. Words run away from you, you find yourself pacing in the middle of the night when a character refuses to co-operate, and you scribble on inappropriate bits of paper. Like council tax bills, or loo roll. Adding a musical score to this already mad scenario, is the work of a lunatic.

Fortunately, Dan Lashbrook and Rob Pratt are very talented lunatics, and manage to pull it off with panache in their new musical production, Pencoweth.

Set in a Cornish fishing village in 1851, Pencoweth follows the fortunes of two young fishermen as they brave the ocean waves to feed the villagers.

Trouble brews however – as it so often does – when the men are on shore with their womenfolk, and begin to doubt their constancy during the long sea voyages. When a plan to prove the girls’ fidelity goes awry, small-town secrets rise to the surface, with tragic consequences.

The score is beautifully complex – a testament to the skill of the composers – although occasionally to the detriment of the lyrics, which can occasionally be a touch hard to understand, making plot developments tricky to follow at times.

Andy Siddall gave a touching performance as Freddie, the confident jack-the-lad whose self-possessed facade crumbles as doubts about his fiancée’s fidelity strengthen. Grant McCotter was also very strong as John Pascoe, switching ably from earnest country boy to a gormless ‘city type’, and had excellent chemistry with Charly Crook, playing his fiancée. Both she and Sophie Louise Smith were convincing as the cheeky troublemakers engaged to Freddie and John, and were endearingly flirtatious without taking it into the realms of parody. Lucy Gaskin was also extremely good as Alice, Freddie’s sister and John’s unnoticed devotee, with a subtle presence on the stage that drew the eye even when the action was elsewhere. Brin Johnson and Michael Bijok also deserve a mention as Old Crabtree and his son, bringing both humour and pathos to their scenes, as well as a very tight stage relationship.

The whole cast is tight, in fact – this is shown to best effect in the tavern scenes, which are also where some of the most memorable harmonies take place.

Petra Schofield’s direction is effective, with one scene change involving a long piece of cloth and back-lighting sticking particularly in my mind.

Overall, a highly ambitious production – the cast are energetic, involved and very talented, the score spirited and vibrant, and the plot an interesting examination of small-town politics and quiet tragedy (even if it is at times a touch difficult to believe). I would highly recommend putting this one on your ‘To See’ list – I can’t be the only one who has one of those – as it is a fantastic example of how compelling new musical theatre can be.

Louise Heavey

Pencoweth runs at the Rondo Theatre until Saturday 28 September at 7:30pm with a matinee on the Saturday.