Sat in the understated Waterloo East Theatre, when the concealed keyboard began to play, I felt a pinch of dread at the prospect of a musical. But I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this production of Dolginoff’s Flames and would certainly recommend it.
Dolginoff demands quite a lot from the performers, especially considering the depth and weight of each character in Flames. Nevertheless, this cast performed quite an impressive feat considering some of the verging-on-ridiculous twists throughout this musical. This small but strong cast offer an enthusiastic and enjoyable performance full of moments of charm and humour.
I spent the first half in confusion, because it took me that long to realise that Dolginoff’s musical is actually a comedy. The farcical elements that I had thought inappropriate could now read as intentional and clever. It was only as the narrative becomes more ridiculous that I realised I was allowed to laugh. This production is under the musical direction of Matthew Eglinton, who unfortunately only has the keyboard at his disposal, and perhaps it is the loss of some musical scoring and complexity here that misplaces these humorous components in some way.
The cast and their performances are a real highlight of this production. The core of Abi Finley’s voice is balanced and pleasing. Her relationships are grounded and provide a sense of stability in performance, which is surprising for a character who at first sight seems whimsical. Bradley Clarkson is convincing and has a natural comedy that infiltrates his performance. His voice is rich and full-bodied. David O’Mahony gives a dynamic performance, with great physical and vocal versatility throughout. Although I felt there could have been clearer directorial decisions, there are some really charming moments throughout and many scenes in which these performers had me laughing out loud.
The basic lighting and sound design is functional, though at times detracts from the action on stage. Waterloo East Theatre provides a great venue for this small production: the rolling trains above, to which our ears normally become accustomed in this space, add subtly to Ali Hunter’s thunderous soundscapes. It reminds us (and the performers!) of the storm to come and the narrative’s tumultuous turns. The set is simple but unfortunately looks cheap and unrealistic, which feels like a shame within the context of the whole production. Intense imagination is required to see more than the polystyrene gravestones and numerous branches stuck in the rostra.
Despite these elements, Flames ‘the musical thriller’ (and comedy) is certainly worth a watch as it’s delivered with great performances and a strange sense of weight, and will certainly have you laughing throughout.
Flames is playing at the Waterloo East Theatre until 31 May. For more information, tour dates and tickets, see the Waterloo East Theatre website.