22 July 2021

Gin Craze! review.

Grab a glass, pour your tipple and pull up a chair for rollicking new musical Gin Craze! The musical is a co-production between Royal and Derngate in Northampton and China Plate in partnership with English Touring Theatre. This booze-soaked tale roots the audience in 18th century where the streets overflow with gin, a time where the average Briton drank 1.5 litres a day, and where the authorities try to restore sobriety.


The company of Gin Craze! Photo by Ellie Kurttz


The new musical written by April de Angelis and Lucy Rivers is a wild and often hilarious ride through the streets as the struggles for the poor who try to make a living as gin sellers with the powers tightening their grip to stop this happening. It centres around two main characters, Mary and Lydia. We meet Mary as she becomes pregnant and loses her job, she must find life on the streets with her new born. To protect her baby she gives him away to Suki who promises she knows someone who will look after her.


Mary meets Jack (who is Lydia but covering up to reveal her true identity) who takes her in and reluctantly takes her in to help her with her gin business. Together the pair form a relationship, with neither Jack revealing her true identity or Mary revealing about her baby. When Evelyn, who runs a rival gin establishment, discovers about the baby she threatens Mary to make her leave. All this is undercut by the powers, The Queen and the Magistrates who look to restore order by introducing licencing for establishments to continue.


I shall not give away the full story but the character's journey continue to weave throughout the second act heading towards a powerful conclusion. The book by de Angelis is clever, she fleshes out the world and the characters with great skill and use of language although this is certainly not a show for the prudish audience, with plenty of swearing and many a sexual reference. 


The company of Gin Craze! Photo by Ellie Kurttz


Musically the show contains some wonderful tunes by de Angelis and Rivers, with a company of actor-musicians with musical direction and arrangement's by Tamara Saringer. A couple of tunes repeat a few times, particularly Mary's 'What Does A Woman Have To Do' which is a fantastic stand out number. There's some tremendous energy to the company providing the music as well as driving the plot forwards. 


Under the direction of Michael Oakley the company of 8, who like the backstage team made huge COVID sacrifices to form a show bubble, are clearly enjoying playing these characters and fleshing out this world. It's these characterisations that really make the show a joy. Aruhan Galieva plays Mary, her character certainly goes on a rollercoaster with highs and lows throughout and that journey is captured with real aplomb. Vocally she's pitch perfect, she's an angelic quality to her vocal tone. Paskie Vernon gives another outstanding performance as Lydia. She captures the right amount of bravado as Jack which switches a bit into the second act as you see the real human side behind Lydia.


Aruhan Galieva as Mary. Photo by Ellie Kurttz


Debbie Chazen has a blast in the dual roles, which couldn't be more polar opposite, as Queen Caroline she captures the perfect controlling German monarch but it's her turn as Moll which is a delight to watch. She manages to capture the drunken heavily sexualised character with real skill and the result is something that is hilarious to watch. Paula James effectively portrays rival establishment owner Evelyn, who develops more in to the second act (again no spoilers).


Rachel Winters as Sarah Fielding brings the feminist empowerment to the piece, she portrays the role with real humanity, especially as she meets Mary in prison and offers her a lifeline but proclaiming that she can't help everyone out even if she wishes she could. Rosalind Ford's Suki is a dark and twisted character who is believably portrayed especially in the revealing second act scenes. 


The two gentlemen on Gin Lane, Alex Mugnaioni and Peter Pearson, who both play a handful of roles, add a bit of masculine brutality to the streets. Mugnaioni's booming voice and power as Henry Fielding (the magistrate) but also switches to show the constable's human side as he wishes to not have to arrest his friends. Pearson is a great actor, he is particularly powerful in the early scenes where he's trying to prostitute Mary.


Visually, the design by Hayley Grindle, features marvellous lavish period costumes all of which are fitting with the style on show. I was a little less taken with the scaffolding set that creates a two level stage but that is dressed well with numerous props but still looks a little clunky. But there's some ingenious design, particularly the gin vending machine. The lighting designed by Jack Knowles cleverly amplifies the setting and the performances as does choreography by Paul Isaiah Isles.


In these difficult times it was nice to enter a world of wickedly bawdy characters who laden with drink and ambition create a joyous 2 and a half hour performance. To feel the swell of great music, fantastic performances. Sit back, have a tipple and enjoy this thoroughly excellent piece.


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ and a half - a brilliant and bawdy trip to the gin dives with this new musical.


Gin Craze! continues at Royal and Derngate in Northampton until Saturday July 31st 2021. To book tickets visit https://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/


The Gin Craze Company! Photo by Ellie Kurttz

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