Red Snow

The discordant and the beautiful set the stage at the Barn this week with James Robert Ball’s debut musical. urges you to see this piece of student written theatre of the highest calibre. Rating: ****

Book, lyrics and music by James Robert Ball
Directors: James Robert Ball and Hannah Higton
Producer: Oliver Julian and Rosie Field
Musical Director: James Laurent-Oliver
Technical Director: Jim Bulley
Venue: Drama Barn
Running until: 19 June 2011
Rating: ****

I came out of the barn filled with an desperate need to watch more musicals. Red Snow combines echoes of Sweeney Todd, Les Miserables, and Nick Stimson’s Korczak. The discordant and the beautiful set the stage at the Barn this week.

The brain-child of James Robert Ball, Red Snow provides an insight into communist Russia at the turn of the revolution. Strength lay in numbers, and moments of real musical theatre joy came from surging harmonies and those illusive fists of emotion. “The working man will never die” sang the cast, and you cannot commend the cast enough for their obvious attachment to the script, music and Ball’s cause. Stark and effective lighting endorsed the harsh nature of communist Russia, illustrated fully and dramatically in the scene spoken in Russian. The coarse and firm language, coupled with unforgiving red lighting portrayed cruelty and pain with the utmost poignancy.

Laura Horton as Natasha provided a vocal feast, her song ‘Drink, Comrades Drink’, conveyed her talent as an actress and a singer. Dressed stunningly in a figure-hugging red dress, she embodied the darker side of the revolution with class, comedy, and spark. Her veteran husband Bolyen, played by Benedick Gibson was equally strong. Their relationship, although the most dysfunctional became the most believable and Gibson was manic, crazed and vocally fine.

I was disappointed in the characters of Nina (Ruth Fitton) and Vladimir (Adam Massingberd-Mundy). Their closing scene together, which was intended to be the climatic scene in the musical, could not be described as heartbreaking– even though their acting throughout was generally great. Likewise, in the first half, the pair’s vocals were not strong enough, and despite improving as the performance progressed, could not tackle Ball’s challenging score. However Fitton did perform one of the most stunning things I have seen in the Barn: her song ‘Snowflake’ was just perfect, and truly moving. Max Tyler’s Zmeya provided sensitivity and humour. His professions of love towards both Nina and the humble potato, were equally enjoyable and showed his versatility as an actor. Similarly Matthew Lecznar as Sergei, complete with ushanka, performed a very believable progression from hard-nosed commander to lover adoring.

It was an achievement of the highest rank to have such a play in the barn, the introduction of an orchestra was powerful, and epic musical filled the space completely. The intimate proximity with both the music and the actors, which took some adjusting to, merely enforced this. Although some typical blocking shapes were used in larger ensemble numbers, in such a small space as the barn, I feel the directing team did all they could.

Disappointingly, a few technical hitches with regards to props, denied us of the climactic ending we craved. However, the actors dealt with it professionally, and after a slightly unexpected close, we were once more treated to some of Ball’s most delicious composition. Ball has created a beautiful and harsh score that demands veritable gymnastics from his actors. His soul stands on the stage as the cast sing. The only downfall was that some of the more ambitious pieces, that echoed Sondheim in their complexity, were lost in moments where the cast could not maintain power in their voices. Even so, I urge you to see this piece of student written theatre of the highest calibre. I imagine it can only get better.