As a new musical, The Clockmaker’s Daughter looks and sounds familiar in a very good way. Created by Michael Webborn and Daniel Finn, this new piece of musical theatre is an enchanting fairytale that at times reminded me of Wicked but with an Irish folk twist.
Set in the timeless period of tales, it tells the story – or rather, legend – behind Spindlewood’s square statue, and the origin of the yearly ceremony known as the turning of the key. Without giving too much of the plot away, it is a tale of love, kindness and redemption set to folkish music, and closer to the more ‘adult’ tales of Grimm than Disney. From the very first second I was transported back to my childhood and the enjoyment of storytelling, and by the end of the overture I was, by art of magic, completely hooked.
A rather clever staging – given the limited space of the Landor Theatre – helped create different spaces while keeping scenery to a minimum, aided by an intimate lighting, highlighted the otherworldliness of the story. Even though there were instances when light cues came a little late (as with the opening and closing of the window), set and lighting design – created respectively by David Shields and Richard Lambert – are cleverly conceived. The set also had some unobtrusive video projections by Maximilien Spielbichler that added to the clockwork theme of the production.
One of the most important features of The Clockmaker’s Daughter is its music, brilliantly executed and directed by co-creator Webborn. A small band of piano, violin, percussion and double bass portrayed the spirit of Irish folk with a musical theatre twist. The musicians deserve much praise.
Jennifer Harding is absolutely mesmerising as Constance, a clockwork creation that learns to speak, move and love (and sew!) in the most endearing way. Gifted with a huge voice, Harding enchants the audience with her longing for freedom and the power of her innocent love – I could easily picture her filling the West End stage. As Constance’s creator, clockmaker Abraham (Lawrence Carmichael) is a tormented character that is never fully explained. As the creator of Constance, he is her ‘father’, but was he trying to recreate his late daughter or wife? The kind of love he shows, is it a fatherly or a different kind of love? Carmichael does a good job, even though at times he sounded a little off-key, which could have been be due to the acoustics of the venue. However, the relationship between inventor and creation is beautifully portrayed, making Abraham’s reluctance to set Constance free understandable.
On the other hand, Alan McHale as Will is a joy to watch. With a voice that echoes the folk air of the score, he transmits the naivety of young love, his final determination being nothing short of heartbreaking. As mentioned above, there were moments in which, while being wonderfully original, I was reminded of Wicked, and those were the company numbers. Their richness and complexity blew me away several times during the show, and proved superior to some soloist numbers. There is hard work behind them, both vocally and choreographically, and it shows beautifully. However, and although brilliantly acted, characters like Jo Wickham’s Ma Riley or Alex Spinney’s Henry fell slightly vocally short. While the overall performance level is astounding, I feel there is more work to be done with the singing.
With a brilliant score, inspired performances and glorious ensembles – and a couple of star turns – The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a refreshing new musical that will certainly delight audiences at the Landor. It has all the ingredients for a successful West End transfer, and with a little polishing I am certain it will get there. After all, who would not like two-and-a-half hours of magic?
The Clockmaker’s Daughter is playing at the Landor Theatre until 4 July. For tickets and more information, see the Landor Theatre website.